In the Matter of Todd Akin

So there I was, putting together a long post on the fabric of the Universe, when Todd Akin came along and seemed to demand at least some brief commentary. A few remarks on that, and I’ll get back to the rest of the Universe in a day or two:

1) The exact quote, in response to a question about pregnancies resulting from rape, is: ““It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

2) It seems to me, from what I understand from news sources, that the female body does not in fact have ways of recognizing rape and preventing conception. I have absolutely no expertise in this matter; therefore my understanding might be wrong. Nevertheless, I’m happy to pass that understanding along.

3) It also seems to me that the phrase “from what I understand from doctors” says, in effect, “I am not an expert, so this might be wrong, but here’s what I’ve heard”. It is not unreasonable for people to make statements like this. In fact, I did it myself, just one paragraph back.

4) A great many of the commentators who jumped to assure you that Akin was wrong about the science did so with no more justification than Akin himself — they, like I, were merely repeating what they’d heard from others. Unlike Akin, most of them made no effort to include that qualification. That gives him, I think, the higher ground on this issue.

5) The question arises: Was Akin in fact repeating something he’d misunderstood, or was he perhaps just making this up? The former assumption is the charitable one, and I think we should go with the charitable assumption as long as it’s reasonable. In this case it’s reasonable. For one thing, there does seem to be evidence (of ambiguous strength) that pregancies resulting from one-time sex are more likely to miscarry than pregnancies resulting from ongoing relationships (it is thought that a man’s semen might have protective value for his own offspring but not for others’ offspring). Insofar as rapes are statistically more likely to be one-time events, this suggests that pregnancies resulting from rape are more likely to miscarry. This isn’t the same thing as “the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down”, but it’s close enough, I think, to be the source of a legitimate misunderstanding. (And if it wasn’t the source, I bet there are plenty of other legitimate facts and theories that might have been.)

6) Akin was defending the view that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape. If the “ways to shut that thing down” theory were central to his argument, then he’d have a major obligation to have gotten it right. But he says pretty explicitly that it’s not central to his argument. His argument is that a zygote is a human being and human beings should not be destroyed for the sins of their fathers. That’s an argument worth attacking. It’s also an argument worth defending, and it’s the argument Akin wanted to defend.

7) Therefore I basically parse his statement as follows: “Well, somebody told me — I’m not sure if it’s true — that pregnancy from rape is rare for biological reasons, and of course if that is true it would be relevant. But my argument does not depend on that in any case. My position is that we have a duty to preserve the life of any zygote, regardless of how it was conceived.” I believe that’s the most reasonable guess as to what Akin was trying to say, and I think it’s reasonable for him to have wanted to say it.

8) The legitimacy of the phrase “legitimate rape” is, I think, a sideshow. The guy was speaking off the cuff, and he grabbed the wrong adjective. I do not think he meant to say that some rapes are more legitimate than others. I think he meant to say that if we’re going to look at statistics on miscarriage, we have to distinguish between pregnancies from rape, on the one hand, and pregnancies that were reported to have resulted from-rapes on the other hand. Any social scientist approaching this problem would want to be careful about that distinction.

9) There are less charitable ways to read Akin’s statement, but I find none of those interpretations more plausible than the charitable one.

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191 Responses to “In the Matter of Todd Akin”


  1. 1 1 Joe

    Wow. You sure do know how to pick your spots, don’t you?

  2. 2 2 Jeffrey Sorensen

    When moral cowards are confronted with the repugnant implications of their narrow and overly simplistic worldview, they confabulate and change the facts to avoid the cognitive dissonance and never confront their own hypocrisy.
    Todd Akin’s accidentally honest language can be linked to a long chain of suspect reasoning that includes blaming women for not providing male heirs. Sadly, this concept of rape is new to people who scarcely regard women as more than property. The recent use of “forcible” rape language suggests that this thinking is bubbling below the surface of the anti-abortion movement, and it fits tooth and gear with their political agenda.
    Steve: I think you should take your own advice here and concentrate your charity where it does the most good; which is clearly elsewhere.

  3. 3 3 John B. Chilton

    Why didn’t he go straight to his belief that life begins at conception and it should not be ended even in the case of rape.

    The most likely reason it’s in there is to make the negative consequences of his position on abortion in the case of rape appear to be perhaps smaller. He’s saying the costs of his ban are perhaps not as large as his opponents say.

    People answer questions about their positions in this way every day, and they are central to their arguments even when their positions are absolute.

    That said, I believe the firestorm over his comments are gotcha politics.

  4. 4 4 Steve Landsburg

    John B. Chilton:

    The most likely reason it’s in there is to make the negative consequences of his position on abortion in the case of rape appear to be perhaps smaller. He’s saying the costs of his ban are perhaps not as large as his opponents say.

    Yes, I agree with this.

    People answer questions about their positions in this way every day, and they are central to their arguments even when their positions are absolute.

    And this.

  5. 5 5 RPLong

    Prof. Landsburg –

    I think you have accurately synopsized things, but you ignore one central fact more important than all the others: Each side of this particular debate considers the other side to be grotesquely evil. Jeffrey Sorensen’s comment is a case in point.

    You can’t find common ground between parties who view their opponents as some combination of unscientific and evil. :(

  6. 6 6 Dustin Romey

    Charitable reading or no, what Mr. Akin made clear is that he’s more than willing to use questionable reasoning to support an argument that he wants to believe in personally. And that he’s willing to base his opinions and arguments on very little information and research.

    That’s very scary from someone who may soon have quite a lot of power.

  7. 7 7 Steve Landsburg

    RPLong: yes, I think you’ve put your finger on the problem.

  8. 8 8 Steve Landsburg

    Dustin Romey:

    what Mr. Akin made clear is that he’s more than willing to use questionable reasoning to support an argument that he wants to believe in personally.

    I do not think this is justified based on what he said. Re the scientific claims, I think he made it clear that he was a) aware that he was not speaking from expertise and b) not basing his argument on them.

  9. 9 9 neil wilson

    Do you make comments like this to draw attention to your blog?

    I seem to remember you also defended Rush Limbaugh calling a woman who disagreed with him a “slut”.

    Posts like this take away from your posts on topics where you have some expertise.

    It makes it harder for me to link to your posts to help explain a point I am trying to make. People will see these posts and it will weaken all of your other posts.

  10. 10 10 Ken

    You can’t find common ground between parties who view their opponents as some combination of unscientific and evil.

    Supporters of abortion who claim that a fetus is not a life are unscientific. And it is evil to kill children. If you don’t believe so, ask yourself what should happen if a person were to kick a pregnant woman in the stomach, such that the baby was lost, i.e., killed. Should that person only be charged with assault?

    Or more simply, ask any pediatrician how many lives they are caring for when caring for a pregnant mother.

    Also, I think many are outraged by the use of the word “legitimate”, which is a fair charge against those who would kill their own children. Norma McCorvey (of Roe v. Wade infamy) herself lied about being raped so she could legally kill her child. The idea here is to slap down the idea that rape accusations are not always legitimate, which as anyone with a brain knows is a perfectly reasonable statement to make. False and unfounded accusations of rape occur all the time, primarily because in our misandristic society, women can do no harm, or are at worst victims themselves, when it comes to sex crimes.

  11. 11 11 Steve Landsburg

    Ken (and, prospectively, others): Please do not turn this into a debate about abortion. The post addresses the question of how best to parse Todd Akin’s remarks, and I’d like to keep the discussion on topic.

  12. 12 12 Steve Landsburg

    Neil Wilson (#9):

    Todd Akin attributed something largely inaccurate to “What I understand from doctors”. You attribute something wholly inaccurate to what you “seem to remember”. Akin was speaking off the cuff; you were at your keyboard and could easily have checked the record. Maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to cast stones.

  13. 13 13 Alan Wexelblat

    @Joe, @neil: he’s trolling. It’s a much more erudite and often humorous form of trolling than the common variety, but it’s trolling. Or perhaps “trolling” has become too pejorative a word. I don’t ascribe ill motives, but it’s clear that Steve makes seemingly outrageous statements in order to get reaction. You have, I hope, noticed that he wrote a book with the title “More Sex is Safer Sex”.

    That said, he’s also good at ignoring inconvenient points. For example Congressman Akin is a member of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology in the House. As such, one would expect him to have a basic familiarity with many forms of technology and be able to call upon basic knowledge such as the CDC’s estimate that approximately 5% of reported rapes result in pregnancy, as well as a general (at least high-school level) understanding of biology, including human reproduction. That Akin can do neither of these things marks him at the very least as unfit for that committee membership.

    Secondly, the phrase “…from what I understand from doctors…” is at its very least a dishonest dodge if not an outright lie. Congressman Akin clearly has spoken to no doctors on this topic, nor read anything written by doctors about this in the last two to three centuries. The use of such an obviously false dodge casts his statement in terrible light, even if one does not understand that “legitimate rape” is itself a heinous verbal camouflage on the order of “creation science” wherein the speaker is attempting to disguise his conservative religious views by cloaking them in seemingly neutral and scientific language.

    I see no reason, given these points, why Akins’ statements should be treated in any charitable way whatsoever. In order to obtain a plausible charitable interpretation one has to blind oneself to the obvious. Thus, trolling.

  14. 14 14 Roger

    The phrase “legitimate rape” has been misinterpreted. Those who are against abortion are usually in favor of allowing abortion in case of rape, but only if it is legitimately a rape. They do not want any women to be able to just tell the abortion clinic it was a rape, without any consequences for lying.

    In a genuine case of a violent rape by a stranger, the woman reports it immediately, and she gets medical treatment to prevent a pregnancy. That is what I’ve been told, anyway. In that sense, I believe that it is correct to say that pregnancy from legitimate rape is rare.

    There are feminists who refuse to distinguish different kinds of rape, for ideological reasons. So they hate phrases like “legitimate rape”. They say that stranger rape, date rape, and marital rape are all the same. They are the ones with the extreme views.

  15. 15 15 RPLong

    Ken B -

    I carefully worded my comment so as to acknowledge the possibility that either side is correct in their assessment of the other side.

  16. 16 16 Navin Kumar

    @Steve Landsburg

    A clear, logical post. Unfortunately, that won’t matter, this being an Emotional Issue etc. Words like “legitimate” matter more than they should and in the backdrop of a “War on Women”,this is the only thing that’s going to stick.

    On the upside, this post wasn’t written as flippantly as the other one on “slut”. So you’ll probably avoid a firestorm.

    @Neil Wilson

    Posts like this take away from your posts on topics where you have some expertise.

    It makes it harder for me to link to your posts to help explain a point I am trying to make. People will see these posts and it will weaken all of your other posts..

    There isn’t much wrong with the logic. If this fact is true, it says more about people reading than the person writing. Apparently, one can either seek influence or seek truth.

  17. 17 17 Joe

    Roger-
    “There are feminists who refuse to distinguish different kinds of rape, for ideological reasons.”

    This is deeply, deeply wrong, and it gets to the heart of the issue. Let’s try this instead.

    “There are rape victims and potential rape victims who refuse to distinguish different kinds of rape, for deeply personal and profound reasons.”

    This is a difficult conversation to have under any circumstances. When we refuse to acknowledge the sincerity of the other person’s beliefs, it becomes an impossible conversation to have.

  18. 18 18 Roger

    Joe, I did not refuse to acknowledge anyone’s sincere beliefs. But there is clearly a difference between a violent stranger rape and a Julian Assange rape. Anyone who refuses to accept the difference is acting out of ideology.

  19. 19 19 Ken

    Steve,

    Please do not turn this into a debate about abortion. The post addresses the question of how best to parse Todd Akin’s remarks, and I’d like to keep the discussion on topic.

    I’m not sure how this could not be about abortion. The entire reason people are interested in parsing Akin’s words is because they are about abortion. What does it mean and what is the point of parsing words if you’re not interested in the context those words were used?

    And I’m not just asking that to be a dick. I really don’t understand what you’re asking of me. I was simply responding to what RPLong said, something with which you agreed. Are you asking that thread to be turned into a debate solely about abortion without the context of Akin’s remarks? If so, I believe I provided the context of Akin’s remarks with regards to abortion.

    And lastly, my point still stands that people are really angry about the use of the word “legitimate”, which is a parsing of Akin’s words. The use of illegitimate rape claims in order to kill children forms the basis of Roe v. Wade. It’s important that this be known and it entirely relevant to what Akin said.

  20. 20 20 Steve Landsburg

    RPLong: You wrote:

    Ken B -

    I carefully worded my comment so as to acknowledge the possibility that either side is correct in their assessment of the other side.

    You are responding, I believe, not to our frequent commenter Ken B, but to our frequent commenter Ken, who is an entirely different person.

  21. 21 21 RPLong

    Oops, my bad. I stand corrected. Thanks, Prof. Landsburg. Apologies to both Kens!

  22. 22 22 Steve Landsburg

    Alan Wexelblat:

    If “trolling” refers to intellectual dishonesty (and I don’t see what else it could mean), then fuck you. Disagreeing is fine. Calling everyone who disagrees with you a liar is not fine, at least not here. You’ll find plenty of outlet for that over on Paul Krugman’s blog.

  23. 23 23 AndrewG

    In regards to points 2-4, you never discuss where the burden of proof should lie. Akin is making quite an extraordinary claim that requires more evidence than from “what I’ve heard from doctors” especially when used to advance an ideological position. It is definitely unreasonable to make a statement like this when saying something so against common sense and knowledge. It would have been better if he had brought up the points in #5 but the fact is that he did not. This is a government representative with power and strong views on rape/abortion. Even given the charitable interpretation that he just wasn’t making something up, it is inexcusable for Akin to make such a weak argument. He should know the facts himself and not rely an doctor hearsay.

  24. 24 24 Joe

    Our host seems to be a little prickly today.

    From Wikipedia

    “In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory…messages in an online community…with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response”

    That’s what I took Alan to mean. And it doesn’t seem too far off.

  25. 25 25 phr3dly

    I disagree with the assertion that ‘rape is rape’, given that the term ‘rape’ is applied both to a loving relationship in which one party is 18 years old and the other is 17 years old, and a violent act in which one party is forced to engage in sexual intercourse against his or her will.

    The latter, IMO, is “legitimate rape”. The former is not. Equating the two belittles the seriousness of the latter.

  26. 26 26 Tal F

    It seems to me, from what I understand of the commenters on this blog, that Steve Landsburg may legitimately be labeled a troll.

  27. 27 27 Ken Arromdee

    As another Ken, I would like to point out “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Regardless of whether this is the traditional way to interpret that maxim, I would apply it here to mean that if being wrong about a claim would have seriously bad consequences (and specifically if similar claims made in the past have been abused to hurt people or to downplay human suffering), you ought to have really, really, good evidence for it before making it.

    Making a claim that, if false, would downplay the consequences of rape would be this type of extraordinary claim, and therefore is something he should have been very sure about before making it. It’s not an excuse that such a claim was made off the cuff or based on something he might have vaguely recalled a similarity to, because that type of claim is not something you should be making under those circumstances.

  28. 28 28 Ken B

    @RPLong: No problem.

    @Ken: This is why I ask you to grow an initial! I think you’ve earned one by now, and there 25 available! :)

  29. 29 29 Jon

    The first thing I thought of when I heard about his remarks is the research on the role of the female orgasm in conception. Here, let me join Prof. Landsburg and Todd Akin’s club by saying that I’m far from an expert, but from what I understand there is ongoing research to suggest having an orgasm increases fertility, which makes sense from both an evolutionary and, ahem, from a biomechanical perspective. I don’t have time to dig through academic literature but here’s a link that gives the idea: http://www.ez-fertility.co.nz/making_love.html

    Now. Even if you charitably grant that this is what Akin was referring to, he still did an awful job of making the case. But I agree with the poster who said that the resulting uproar has mostly been about “gotcha politics”. A very apt phrase.

    I also agree with Prof. Landsburg that Akin was probably trying to get at a certain distinction, and that that distinction exists and is meaningful. It seems indelicate at best to use the word “legitimate”; maybe it’s better to distinguish between implicit and explicit coercion.

    Implicit coercion, as for example between an 18 year old man and 15 year old girl, is legally defined as rape (depending on the jurisdiction) but may yet result in conditions more favorable to conception.

    I think it is safe to say that explicit coercion, such as violent rape for example, never results in conditions that increase the chances of conception as outlined above, but of course may yet result in conception anyway. I think this is the point Akin was trying to make, and the interpretation makes sense given the way he transitions into his main point about punishing the rapist, not the fetus.

    I take no position in any of the above on normative legal concerns about abortion or age of consent laws.

  30. 30 30 Ken B

    @Steve: Re the post and 22: Bravo.

  31. 31 31 Ken B

    Ken sans-initial:”I’m not sure how this could not be about abortion.”

    By not being about abortion? By being about other things? Steve means he wants the discussion to be about what reasonable standards of interpretation should be used when someone speaks off the cuff, even if you hate his politics, and what constitutes a reasonable appeal to authority, and whether the point Akin tried to make was central to his argument. Whether this furor is a bogus feeding frenzy set off by hyper-partisans. The discussion could be about all these things. None of which are abortion.

  32. 32 32 Ken B

    Ken Aromdee: “As another Ken…”

    Braggart!

    :)

  33. 33 33 Jeff Semel

    A politician’s cost (to himself) of speech errors is ridiculously high. I would much prefer that politicians be able to speak without so much self-editing, and be held accountable only for what they confirm they mean. This is the standard for normal conversation and for academic discourse. (“Do you mean to say…?” “Well, no, of course I don’t mean that.”)

    Here’s a good article from Language Log about Todd Akin’s “One Little Adjective.” And a more general article about a Rick Santorum slip, subtitled “What Do Speech Errors Really Reveal About Inner Thoughts?” (Answer: Not much.)

  34. 34 34 Ken B

    @Jeff Semel: Yep. It’s even worse if you accidentally say ’57 states’ and you do it in Austrian.

  35. 35 35 Ken B

    @Joe:
    Far be it from me to question Wikipedia. So let’s just take the defintion you gave and comapre it to the original:

    “In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory,[2] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[3] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.[4]”

    I see several interesting phrases here: extraneous, off-topic, disrupting normal on-topic discussion. You elided all of these. Why? Didn’t know what they meant perhaps?

    I also see ‘primary intent’. I think Steve’s primary intent is cut through some bullshit. I think all his comments are on topic and none are extraneous, because he made plain what his intended topic is.

  36. 36 36 axman

    Steve does not post inflammatory things to inflame people and get attention. Rather, he HATES it when people are inflamed by things that they logically shouldn’t be inflamed by. In some sense, he hates it when people treat non-trolls as trolls.

    Of course, if you are the kind of person who can’t tell apart such trolls and non-trolls, you’re likely to put Steve in the same camp as the “troll” he is defending. But he is not a troll. A troll wants you to be angry, but Steve wishes everyone would stop being angry about this and other issues. He is trying to put out a fire, not start one.

  37. 37 37 Joe

    Ken B

    “Or” is different from “and”. I quoted the part that applies, not the part that doesn’t. I did that for the sake of clarity. Apparently it didn’t help your understanding.

    It also seems that we disagree about the professor’s “primary intent”. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on that.

  38. 38 38 Jonathan Kariv

    Just as a point of reference I remember all of us being very impressed (and rightly so) with Ed Nelson withdrawing a claim about the peano axioms after some polite discussion with terry Tao.

    Here Akin made a claim about science (yes Steve with the provisio’s of speaking off the cuff and it not being his main point) and it causes a media outcry. Surely we’d expect him (or his aides) to now research the science and either withdraw the claim or point to some literature (while of course emphasizing that his main point is ideological).

    If we’re going to assume that he didn’t make things up to support his ideological position then this strikes me as what we’d expect the follow up to be.

    I admit I haven’t been paying much attention to this so the follow up might have happened without me noticing but I imagine you’d have pointed it out if it had.

    The uncharitable interpretation strikes me as reasonable given the lack of followup (or until some followup).

  39. 39 39 Steve Landsburg

    Jonathan Kariv:

    Here Akin made a claim about science (yes Steve with the provisio’s of speaking off the cuff and it not being his main point) and it causes a media outcry. Surely we’d expect him (or his aides) to now research the science and either withdraw the claim or point to some literature (while of course emphasizing that his main point is ideological).

    A superb observation.

  40. 40 40 Ken B

    @axman:
    “Calm down”
    “Troll!”

  41. 41 41 nobody.really

    1. Yes, it’s possible to regard Akin as simply stating a layman’s belief about facts. We are all prone to such errors, and the act of punishing errors has the effect of stifling debate. Thus, I encourage everyone to extend to Akin the same benefit of a doubt you would extend to, say, Holocaust deniers.

    2. Ok, I’m lying. I’m willing to extend a greater benefit of a doubt to Holocaust deniers.

    Landsburg has opined that people are free to adopt, and fervently advocate, various religious views even without evidence because there is so little at stake for themselves. If someone author has a need to deny the Holocaust occurred, I don’t get too hung up about it; what harm?

    However, when someone’s beliefs have actual consequences for others, I become less accommodating of the failure to keep up on the literature. If you advocate transubstantiation, knock yourself out. If you advocate the use of virgin sacrifices to control earthquakes, my tolerance for your views drops. And if you’re seeking to implement your views via public policy, I’m pissed.

    Given Akin’s position in Congress, I find him much closer to the virgin sacrifice position than the transubstantiation position.

    3. Why has this topic gained such notoriety? (Even the BBC was commenting on it!) This topic fits a larger narrative about Republicans/Conservatives/Tea Partiers: These people substitute ideology for fact, even when scientific sources are available for consultation. Hayek remarked upon this tendency in his 1960 essay “Why I am not a Conservative”:

    Unlike liberalism, with its fundamental belief in the long-range power of ideas, conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited at a given time. And since it does not really believe in the power of argument, its last resort is generally a claim to superior wisdom, based on some self-arrogated superior quality.

    [T]he most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it – or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism…. I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution….

    Connected with the conservative distrust of the new and the strange is its hostility to internationalism and its proneness to a strident nationalism…. The growth of ideas is an international process, and only those who fully take part in the discussion will be able to exercise a significant influence. It is no real argument to say that an idea is un-American….

    The anti-internationalism of conservatism is so frequently associated with imperialism. [T]he more a person dislikes the strange and thinks his own ways superior, the more he tends to regard it as his mission to “civilize” others….

    4. Why would Landsburg pick this topic to comment upon? Some suggest that he’s simply trying to provoke comments. Perhaps.

    But Landsburg may also be reacting to another larger narrative: Conservatives/Libertarians are indifferent or averse to people who are disadvantaged. Perhaps Landsburg seeks to encourage a charitable reading of Akin’s remarks to draw fuel away from this larger narrative.

    5. Does it matter what motivates Landsburg’s comments? After all, we can agree or disagree with the thesis — Akin deserves the benefit of a doubt — regardless of Landsburg’s motive in stating the thesis. Even if Landsburg were to acknowledge being paid by Akin to write his post, so what? Cases regularly go to court with each side candidly acknowledging that they pay their advocates; this does not render the merits of the issues irrelevant. In sum, the merit of the argument stands (or not) regardless of the merit of the arguer. An undue focus on the merit of the arguer distracts attention from the merit of the argument.

    I hold this view; I regard speculation about people’s motives – both Landsburg’s and other people’s – as off-topic.

    6. That said, the larger context in which this discussion occurs interests me, too. It may be off-topic, but it’s arguably a more important topic.

    Consider context. There is no shortage of information suggesting, for example, that race is a poor predictor of an individual’s intelligence. Nevertheless, this view endures. After a certain point, it becomes clear that mere factual information and logical debate is not sufficient to change views. It appears that, like religious views, this perspective gratifies the people who hold it, and this gratification overwhelms the normal inclination toward critical thinking. In this context, it becomes appropriate to stigmatize the practice of holding certain views about racial disparities – even if some of the people holding these views do so without animus.

    Similarly, Akin may hold no animus toward women impregnated by rape. Nevertheless, he articulates a view that has long persisted in the face of contrary evidence. It appears that the view gratifies the people who hold it. Given the context, stigma may be the appropriate tool to change public perceptions.

    Yes, this tool may provide rough justice for Akin. But the prevalence of Akin’s views provides rough justice for pregnant women. As between two groups of presumptively innocent parties – Akin on the one hand, women impregnated by rape on the other – which parties are in the better position to alter behavior to guard against the harm of stigma?

    I hate gumming up the marketplace of ideas with stigma. I also hate oppressing and stigmatizing rape victims. We face a trade-off. I sense that Landsburg is on one side of the trade-off; I’m on the other.

  42. 42 42 Ken B

    @Joe: I’m pretty sure most observers will think your elisions are relevant. But let’s talk grammar a sec, as you wish. The ‘or’ is part of the phrase ‘or of otherwise’ doing something. That matters. Let’s look at it:
    “intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[3] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.[4]”
    The emotional response must be to disrupt the on-topic discussion. That’s what that phrase means.

  43. 43 43 Ken

    Ken B,

    @Ken: This is why I ask you to grow an initial! I think you’ve earned one by now, and there 25 available! :)

    I don’t ask others to change their handle to suit me, nor will I change my handle to suit yours.

    Whether this furor is a bogus feeding frenzy set off by hyper-partisans.

    So the observations should only be about the furor and not at all why the furor exists at all? I think it’s very relevant to discuss what is driving the furor as well as any other problems people find with what Akin said. Akin is not the only politician to appeal to authority this week, but is the most talked about, and why do you think that is? The controversy, I think, has nothing to do with an appeal to authority and I don’t think that Steve posted this blog post solely about a bogus appeal to authority. There are literally hundreds of better examples of people in higher, more prominent political places appealing to authority on a whole host of subjects, but this is the one Steve chooses. I don’t think that’s a coincidence and it’s NOT “by not being about abortion”.

  44. 44 44 Ken B

    @38,39:
    Really? Let’s say Akin can find a source, even a good one. He should cite it? Are you kidding? He wants this to die down. Stoking headlines “Akin stands by claim” is the last thing he as a politician wants. Say he finds no link. He’s already got an apology out. It concentrates on what is politically the most deadly part of his gaffe, the wording he used.

    You can read into his silence on the science a politician’s prudence or oiliness, but it’s a stretch to see it as telling ou much about his prior state of mind.

  45. 45 45 Peter Tennenbaum

    “It seems to me, from what I understand from [various unnamed "experts" in fields x,y,z... ], that Mr.[A,B,C... ] is a pedophile.”

    Feel free to insert, for example, the name Landsburg as the purported pedophile.

    Legal? Maybe. Slanderous? Probably not. But I am not an “expert”.

    Vicious? If the circumstances were remotely similar to “In the Matter of X”, then I would say (and decidedly) “YES”!

    There are, of course, 10^10^10 convoluted/clever variations, at minimum. Indeed, I claim that much of modern “discourse” has devolved into this form, this insidious “structure”.

    Wilhelm Reich aptly named the underlying pathology “The Emotional Plague”. Witness how far and fast it spreads. It is extraordinarily efficient!!!!!

    Cowards and cripples, leaking pus. Isolate the infected person until he/she recovers and can no longer inflict damage on people/society/institutions.

    Akin had one thing right: At root IT IS a MEDICAL issue [problem].

  46. 46 46 Ken B

    @Ken: I think SL’s request was that this debate not turn into a debate about abortion (*yawn*). That doesn’t mean abortion is irelevant. It means we can, and should discuss other issues, not whether abortion should be legal or not.

  47. 47 47 Jonathan Kariv

    @Ken B/44: Well 2 distinct meanings of good here.
    1. Useful to Akin as a politician
    2. Good thing to say if you’re an honest commenter trying to get at the truth.

    Remember we’re trying to determine weather to view Akin as making an honest mistake or a dishonest one. If he cited anything (for or against his original claim) I’d be inclined to view him as intellectually honest.

    Given nothing is forthcoming there I’m inclined to view him as having made things up (otherwise known as being a politician).

  48. 48 48 GregS

    Thanks for this, Steve. I was thinking about this all day yesterday, and thought, “Surely Landsburg will cover this ‘outrage.’”
    On the “Steve is just trolling” comment: I’ll second his response. We supposedly live in an age of scientific enlightenment (commenters here more so than the average Joe). If someone makes a factually incorrect statement or an invalid logical argument, the appropriate response is NOT outrage. I have felt uncomfortable sharing any of my thoughts on this story with anyone besides my very patient and understanding wife. What Steve is doing here is entirely appropriate. There is suddenly this consensus that “Comment X was outrageous!” It’s worth thinking about WHY it’s outrageous. There’s an even stranger consensus that “Hypothesis X is obviously untrue!” Maybe it’s untrue, but it’s certainly not obvious that it’s untrue. And if it’s not “obviously” untrue, the untruth of the statement is hardly outrageous. I consider myself reasonably well-read on the topics of biology and evolution; if the mechanism that Akin posits doesn’t exist, that’s far from obvious. Similar mechanisms which serve similar functions certainly exist. Steve described one above; I know of a couple others from my readings of Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins.
    I think the reason for outrage is something like “Statement X is outrageous because we all agree that it’s outrageous.” If you’re a critical thinker, that kind of answer should leave you unsatisfied.
    BTW, this reminds me very much of a blog post by David Friedman titled “What Should Count as Nutty?”

  49. 49 49 nobody.really

    On burden of proof borne by professionals:

    Here Akin made a claim about science (yes Steve with the proviso of speaking off the cuff …)….
    * * *
    Remember we’re trying to determine whether to view Akin as making an honest mistake or a dishonest one [rather than judging whether his statements were accurate].
    * * *
    “Hypothesis X is obviously untrue!” Maybe it’s untrue, but it’s certainly not obvious that it’s untrue. And if it’s not “obviously” untrue, the untruth of the statement is hardly outrageous.

    Where does the burden of proof lie? When can we reasonably expect legislators to have researched the facts underlying their legislation?

    I read Akin’s remarks to say that Akin has a false belief about biology. I have yet to hear any theory explaining how Akin’s remarks reflected a factually accurate view, but was simply worded badly.

    Now, anyone might hold a false belief about something. But recall that Akin co-sponsored HR 3 (2011), the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” that would restrict financial assistance for victims of rape that did not qualify as “forcible rape,” and HR 212 (2011), the “Sanctity of Human Life Act [a/k/a personhood bill]”, that would outlaw abortions in almost all cases.

    Thus, Akin is not just anyone. Akin is a full-time legislator. We pay his salary. And he was legislating on issues pertaining to a rape victim’s access to abortion. If we can’t expect a legislator to know the facts underlying the legislation he supports – a legislator on the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, for crying out loud – then when can we?

    In short, it appears that Akin failed to engage in due diligence in the exercise of his duties. I don’t begrudge him holding false views at some point in time. But I begrudge his failure to do the research justifying his proposed legislation – research that should have disabused him of those false views. He has engaged in dereliction of duty – on my dime.

  50. 50 50 Ken B

    @Jonathan Kariv: I expect he’s just repeating the kind of hearsay stuff that people latch onto when it bolsters their positions. Archaeology supports the Bible, that kind of thing. But he won’t be discussing it now for several reasons. I just don’t think you can therefore draw many conclusions from that silence.

  51. 51 51 Steve Landsburg

    Nobody.really:

    Re your comment #50: I’d agree that this was dereliction of duty if the false belief had been used to justify the legislation. But part of what I think is key here is that Akin explicitly told us that this belief, whether true or false, was not what motivated his position.

  52. 52 52 Ken B

    People told me for years that in his state of the union speech in 2003 Bush mentioned Iraq trying to buy yellow-cake from Niger. I still hear that adduced as evidence Bush lied. The thing is, Bush did not say that. I don’t accuse those who repeat the charge of lying about it, just of credulously believing without checking a factoid so useful. Bush said something that others interpreted as referring to that, and they wrongly (or falsely) attributed that to Bush and the meme spread. It looks to me like the same thing with the ‘protection’ claim. To impute deceptive intent on the basis of a thing like is a stretch. Sloppiness, laziness, maybe. But deceit?

  53. 53 53 Scott H.

    The context and politics of Akin’s comment come from the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” act. The act contains a rape exception. Everyone knows that if a rape charge is necessary for a free abortion, rape charges will go up. The Republicans were clumsily trying to place limits on that outcome. They didn’t want the crime of rape to become a joke similar to the “medical use” of marijuana.

  54. 54 54 Drew

    I think it’s somewhat relevant that the view he was espousing is one that’s a very common talking point amongst some of the most hardline anti-abortion folks (other similar claims are that it only happens in one in a million millions of rapes).

    When someone makes an offhand statement about Obama endorsing the idea that he might not be a citizen, people understandably are outraged, even if the person confesses to not having looked into the issue very closely and not caring very much. It’s well known to be an explosive issue with a lot of serious implications even if it isn’t directly relevant to the point the person talking is making. It’s also being offerred as an apology to those who might not agree with him as to why they _should_ (i.e. even if you think there should be exceptions from rape, agree with me, because it’s next to impossible that this ever happens), or at least muddy the debate and contradict the other side (you say this is a big problem, but it’s not. Doesn’t matter to me: but I am still calling you out and saying you’re wrong/untrustworthy/etc.).

    A recent GOP comment also illustrates something I think is relevant to the thinking here:

    http://gawker.com/5936533/missouri-gop-leader-wants-you-to-know-that-rapes-resulting-in-pregnancy-are-a-blessing
    “Ms. Barnes echoed Mr. Akin’s statement that very few rapes resulted in pregnancy, adding that “at that point, if God has chosen to bless this person with a life, you don’t kill it.”"

    This woman, and perhaps Akin, seem to have a theological view of reality in which they think the few rapes that result in babies are ordained by God, that because they are so vanishingly rare they are miraculous. If rapes leading to pregnancy were much more common and as a matter of fact all condoned by God, that would call this state of affairs (and, geez, God) into question.

    So I think there are a lot of broader issues here:

    1) it may not have been relevant to Akin’s own beliefs, but it was being offerred as a reason why others who don’t share him should nevertheless agree with his policies
    2) we don’t actually know how critical the belief is to his own position/entire worldview, regardless of what he says are his current moral reasons. We don’t _really_ know how we’d re-evaluate them in the face of a different state of reality, as so far he hasn’t acknowledged it as real

    Side point: as others have pointed out, there’s equally ambiguous arguments that rapes are MORE likely to result in pregnancies than random instances of unprotected sex, regardless of or countering any mechanisms against such pregnancies resulting in conception.

    That may sound weird until you consider that rape victims don’t choose when they get raped, but rapists DO choose when to rape. And evidence that rapists tend to target, for whatever reason, women who are currently fertile (whereas women choosing to engage in sex who aren’t trying to conceive often do the exact opposite).
    http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-08/rape-results-more-pregnancies-not-less

    I’d rate this as pure hypothesis rather than something we know for sure with solid evidence (especially since so much of the data relies on self-reporting) but it’s certainly at least as plausible as some of the claims that rapes tend NOT to result in pregnancy.

  55. 55 55 Darin Johnson

    There is some evidence of a “shutting down” mechanism. Akin’s remarks were at best poorly worded, but maybe not wholly incorrect.

    http://news.discovery.com/human/women-sperm-selection.html

    (Mary Roach’s “Bonk” discusses this in more detail.)

  56. 56 56 Drew

    “And if it’s not “obviously” untrue, the untruth of the statement is hardly outrageous.”

    Well, he said it was really rare. I think whether it’s obviously untrue depends on whether or not you think he meant it in absolute terms, or in terms of a percentage of all rapes.

    Here’s an estimate that they happen about 32k a year (albiet, again, from a survey): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8765248 http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0812/79895.html

    That’s a small percentage of rapes, but it doesn’t seem rare in absolute terms (which I think is what’s relevant to abortion policy and probably also the sense in which Akin meant it), and it’s also on the same scale as regular instances of unprotected sex (the relevant comparison), which suggests that if there is some unknown mechanism, it doesn’t work that well (that’s before taking into account the suggested higher miscarriage rate though).

    Side point: whether or not an orgasm increases the chances of conception is still basically unknown, from everything I’ve read on the subject. A lot of that is simply because not very much money goes into the sort of sex research that’d help us understand. Mary Roach’s “Bonk” is a pretty good (and entertaining) read that takes a look into why this is, along with a history of some really, really terrible/awkward research that has been done.

    Human beings are also pretty darn weird when it comes to the role of sex. Aside from our closest ancestors, chimps, we have a lot of behaviors and features going on that most other animals just don’t, and in the case of chimps, we have two fairly different behavioral examples (what is traditionally thought of as “chimpanzees” and then chimps called bonobos, both of which have been widely misunderstood/mischaracterized) as guides to what our biological baselines might be (before culture and modern medicine step in to heavily complicate any attempt to understand the picture).

    The controversial book “Sex at Dawn” also makes some pretty interesting arguments about what our early ancestors may have been like, based on a survey of societies from around the world as well as a look at our closest ancestors. Also worth a read, as whether or not you buy its conclusions, it shows just how hard and complicated it is to speculate about what things related to sex, rape, pregnancy, etc. make “evolutionary” sense: in general, we have a lot of suppositions that are based on some pretty shaky or even long-ago discredited evidence. (To spoil the book: it ultimately argues that our early pre-agrarian ancestors, and thus those most relevant to the evolution of our behaviors before modern culture set in, were openly non-monogamous and believed in ideas such as that a woman who slept with many men would then have children who were partly the result of all her partners, all of whom would be expected to help raise the child, and all of whom contributed to the child’s well-being).

  57. 57 57 Drew

    Darin Johnson:

    Worth noting some other possible factors that would play into these effects:

    -various possible immune system responses that may select sperm wouldn’t seem to have much effect on rapes, as a consensual adult partner might just as easily be less compatible while a rapist could be more so

    -a disturbingly high number of rapes involve a older male repeatedly forcing sex with a younger female family member, which might mean that the “unknown sperm” effect wouldn’t play as much a role in these repeat rapes, and thus could have less of an effect overall

    The best bit in Bonk, imho, is the section mentioning the bizarre practice of “impotence trials,” which sound ghastly for everyone involved.

  58. 58 58 iceman

    In my view Landsburg’s general MO is to “shock” us with the implications of eschewing the ad hominem and instead taking ideas, arguments and words seriously — that is, *at face value*.
    Perhaps this is what is meant by being biased to take the “charitable” interpretation: if one can reasonably conceptualize a ‘legitimate’ basis for an argument or position, one is best served dealing with it as such and jettisoning the speculative psychoanalysis about “real” intentions as the cop-out that route often represents.

    Personally I find this approach refreshingly conducive to learning something from just about any situation. (As some have pointed out here, it’s often the only way we can hope to advance the debate. And I second the notion that the commenters here do a pretty darn good job, at least in relative terms, of focusing on substance.)
    I continually find that whenever I’m tempted to expediently write off someone – or especially an entire party – as idiotic or evil, there’s almost always at least a kernel more to the story that warrants a bit more thoughtfulness and introspection. With practice (since it seems we’re almost hard-wired against it), I’ve found this can be both challenging and fun.

    For example, before today, based on the headlines I assumed Akin was just being stupid…based on this post I now think he was certainly politically stupid, but much more importantly to me, whatever his electoral fate I may also have learned about a fascinating aspect of female biology. (Note to self: must do more independent field research in this area.)

  59. 59 59 Drew
  60. 60 60 Ted Levy

    Akin desires, and presumably would push for to the extent possible as a US Senator, abortion to be illegal even if the pregnancy was conceived in rape. When asked why he doesn’t accept this exception, he explains that it is rare to become pregnant by rape.

    I must admit to being unclear on this as a rationale, even if true. “I won’t allow X as an exception because X is rare,” seems to make no more (?no less) sense than “I will allow X as an exception because X is rare.”

    You shouldn’t steal, even if starving. I won’t make an exception for starving because starving is rare.

    You shouldn’t kill, even if your life is at risk. I won’t make an exception for your life being at risk, because your life being at risk is rare.

    Ignore the truth or falsity of the assumptions in the above two examples. Even ASSUMING the assumptions are true, does the reasoning make sense?

  61. 61 61 Steve Landsburg

    Ted Levy:

    You shouldn’t steal, even if starving. I won’t make an exception for starving because starving is rare.

    Ignore the truth or falsity of the assumptions in the above two examples. Even ASSUMING the assumptions are true, does the reasoning make sense?

    The reasoning would make sense if many thieves falsely claimed to be starving.

  62. 62 62 Advo

    You have to see GOP’s stance on abortion – and the “legitimate rape” comment – in the wider context of their stance on the issue of sex.
    The “social” conservatives stance’ on sex is characterized simply by hostility on the issue, and a certain loathing of female sexuality. This isn’t a particularly remarkable thing, we see this in a lot of cultures where it’s even more obvious. Notably, in all cultures dominated by fundamentalist Abrahamic religions in the Middle East (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Iran, but also in ultra-orthodox Judaism which tends to be virulently mysoginist).
    All fundamentalist Abrahamic religions have a tradition of (and rules for) punishing female rape victims. The recent examples from the stoning of likely rape victims from Afghanistan come to mind and the various “honor” killings.
    If you look in the bible, if a married woman gets raped within the confines of a city, she is to be put to death, because she could have cried for help and apparently didn’t, so she must have wanted it, the slut.

    If she is unmarried, and the rapist pays the father, she is to marry him.

    In biblical tradition, women (and their sexuality) is the property of men, which was sold off, literally. First the father, then (after paying the bride price) the husband own the woman and her sexuality.
    This urge to control female sexuality has survived to a significant degree in Christian culture since biblical times.

    Akin was speaking in fine biblical tradition and expressing the feelings of many of his fundamentalist brethren within the GOP, whose core belief is that women should be punished for having sex.

    Google “consequence-free sex” if you want to read what fundies think of sexuality.

  63. 63 63 Ted Levy

    So, Steven, consider two interpretations of Akin’s position:

    1. “I oppose abortion and think it should be illegal for reasons X, Y, Z. And I oppose making an exception for abortion because practically speaking if that were accepted as an exception it would create a huge loophole allowing the law to be generally flaunted.”

    2. “I oppose abortion and think it should be illegal for reasons X, Y, and Z. And such reasons are categorical and allow no exceptions.”

    I grant you that if Akin’s position were #1, his “no rape exception” argument would make more sense, but it seems his other comments, to the extent I’ve followed them, favor Akin’s position being more akin to #2. That is why it makes little sense to me.

  64. 64 64 Martin-2

    I have a question for anyone who claims Republicans are engaging in a “war on women” or something like that.

    - Is there any part of the GOP’s stance on abortion that doesn’t follow directly from the belief that fertilized eggs have the same status as more developed humans?

    Even Akin’s view on pregnancy resulting from rape is consistent with this view and – wadaya know? – it’s the exact justification he offers. Do you find this belief farfetched even though many people profess it? Is our fellow commenter Ken a liar?

    Anyway, Akin’s statement is slimy. If all he had to go on was a rumor then he should have kept it to himself. Actually, he could very well have been trying to start a rumor. That would count as an attack on women in my book.

  65. 65 65 Martin-2

    Ted Levy (63): It could be seen as an outreach to his less enlightened brethren, an argument we can accept even without equating unborn children with babies and toddlers. But I am also receptive to darker interpretations.

  66. 66 66 ed

    The controversy over the word “legitimate” is beyond ridiculous.

    From theFreeDictionary.com:

    le·git·i·mate (l-jt-mt)
    adj.
    1. Being in compliance with the law; lawful: a legitimate business.
    2. Being in accordance with established or accepted patterns and standards: legitimate advertising practices.
    3. Based on logical reasoning; reasonable: a legitimate solution to the problem.
    4. Authentic; genuine: a legitimate complaint.

    So many idiots are pretending to believe that he meant to use it in sense 1-3, when in context he obviously meant 4.

  67. 67 67 Mike H

    #35 : “In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts … off-topic messages in an online community…with the primary intent of … disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

    #0 : So there I was, putting together a long post on the fabric of the Universe, when Todd Akin came along and seemed to demand at least some brief commentary…

  68. 68 68 Steve Landsburg

    ed:

    So many idiots are pretending to believe that he meant to use it in sense 1-3, when in context he obviously meant 4.

    Well, an “idiot” might be someone who actually believes he meant it in sense 1-3; those who pretend to believe it are probably more accurately characterized as trolls.

  69. 69 69 Paul T

    Pardon me for divagating, but let us note another lulu for
    the “Just When You Thought He Couldn’t Top Himself” file:

    “We shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians … making [health]
    decisions on behalf of women”
    - the godfather of ObamarxistCare, 8/20/12

  70. 70 70 Nathan

    Unlike Steven, I will not be extending a charitable interpretation of Rep. Akin’s remarks, for the reasons described below:

    Unlike your typical voter, Akin is a member of the House of Representatives, which means his vote actually matters. It’s his job to be correctly informed on relevant issues.

    More importantly, Akin’s “mistake” is a peculiar type of mistake. It is not a mere factual error of the sort that we all make. Rather, it is a false belief that highly correlates with important religious, political, or other core beliefs and is “helpful” to those who hold those beliefs in maintaining them in the face of what otherwise might by cognitive dissonance.

    Specifically, the pregnant-from-rape scenario presents a tough question for extreme pro-life activists. While Akin maintains that he would hold his pro-life stance even if his factual beliefs were incorrect, it’s clear that his beliefs are easier to hold believing as he does.

    To give a similar example, I remember hearing an interview a while ago with a couple of extreme animal rights activists. They claimed that there were no legitimate uses for animals at all. When pressed on things like medical research on animals, they stated with a straight face that it was all useless: animals were too different for us to learn anything from, and computer models could take care of everything. They even went so far as to claim that mosquito-eradication programs didn’t really help stop the spread of malaria!

    Like Akin, the animal rights activists would probably state that they would continue to oppose humans killing animals for any purpose, even if their “facts” were proven wrong. But like Akin, their beliefs are easier to maintain if they don’t have to confront the actual facts. It’s much tougher to oppose killing mosquitoes if you have to accept that by doing so you’re condemning millions of humans to slow, painful deaths. Much easier to believe the opposite, and everything fits together so well without any loose pieces.

    There are, of course, tons of other examples. Catholics who don’t think that condoms actually prevent the spread of disease; conservatives who don’t think that global warming is real, etc.

    Getting back to Rep. Akin, I don’t think he’s lying when he says that he’d still be pro-life even if the facts were different, but I don’t necessarily believe him either. Being forced to actually accept an inconvenient fact as true would continually gnaw at his brain and make dogmatic adherence to his current position much more difficult. Which, of course, is precisely why he believes such ludicrously wrong “facts” as he does.

    This is also why I’m feeling less than charitable toward him. When a disputed factual belief is extremely convenient to your worldview, you have a higher duty to determine its truth than when it’s a mere piece of trivia like who won the Super Bowl in 1982. It’s beyond clear to me that Akin, rather than genuinely seeking the truth of the matter, has gone out of his way to talk to people who already agree with him, ignore evidence to the contrary, and seek to confirm his pre-existing beliefs. He is not a liar, but he is not a genuine truth-seeker.

  71. 71 71 Vic

    There are two things I want to say.

    First: I believe you are adding more modesty to his qualifier ” From what I understand from doctors”. It seems to me that it is more plausible that he is dishonestly trying to add a degree of legitimacy and consensus to a statement that he must have known is very controversial. I believe that the evidence supports my interpretation because according to a CNN article, Adkin said “I had heard one time a medical report that it’s hard to get, it’s harder for somebody to get pregnant under those conditions”. According to CNN, Adkin’s own supporters claim that the misleading information came from an article that was written by the former president of the National Right to Life Committee. It seems likely that there was a bit more dishonesty in his statement than something in the spirit of a “Gosh, I may be wrong about this, but from what I heard..”

    Second, I don’t know if you realize this, but the reason why his statement is so offensive to many people is that it is very plausible to interpret his statement to mean there is a significant disconnect between reported rapes leading to pregnancy and actual “legitimate” rapes leading to pregnancies. You implied this yourself when answering the question regarding whether the rarity of starvation is relevant when defending the contention that their will be no exceptions for theft for starving people: “The reasoning would make sense if many thieves falsely claimed to be starving”.

    I think its pretty clear why such a claim is offensive. It seems to be another manifestation of “the woman is to blame” point of view regarding rape. To be fair to him, he has apologized for his statement and has admitted that the facts do not support his contention. I still find his willingness to make a statement with such implications on such a weak basis disturbing.

  72. 72 72 Jeffrey Sorensen

    Regarding point 5: It seems to me that the existence of a hypothetical system that increases miscarriage rates is not a scientific question. At least not one that can be tested. All of the supposed support for this convenient untruth comes from anecdote subject to multiple biases including rape under reporting and inseparable factors such as potency of rapist sperm.
    From a theory standpoint, the neodarwinist would realize that the egg has no interest where the sperm comes from, and once fertilized will work selfishly to attach to the host without regard to her mental or physical state.
    A mutation that reduces the likelihood of any potential pregnancy for any reason besides viability will necessarily reduce fecundity and be selected against.

  73. 73 73 Harold

    Your justifications of his mis-understandings are way too charitable. It is all but impossible that he heard anything like he said he did from doctors. It is possible that he believes he did, but that is because his confirmation bias has only allowed him a very distorted interpretation of what he has heard. Whatever qualifications he adds to this, it is just an expression of his preferences over-riding reality. We all do it to some extent, but this an extreme example. What makes his statement unpalatable is that he is an activist in this area. Anyone may make a mistake about something they do not take much interest in, but to get something as fundamentally wrong as this in an area where he has co-sponsored bills is unforgivable – even if this aspect is not central to the bill. He has a responsibilty to be informed, and he did have a major obligation to get this right.

    Having said that, I entirely agree that this is not central to his argument on abortion. If you take the view that a zygote is entitled to the same rights as any legal person, then however they were conceived is almost irrelevent. What is much more difficult to justify is the official GOP position(?) that abortion should be legal in rape cases. If we allow abortion in the case of rape, then we accept that the rights of the zygote / embryo / fetus are not the same as a “person” at conception – or up to the age at which abortion would be allowed. If these rights are not absolute, then whether abortion should be allowed becomes a matter of balancing. There is no definitive moral principle that then forbids abortion at any particular stage. The GOP agrees that on balance, the developing fetus’s rights are outweighed by a raped woman’s. Others believe that these rights are outweighed by any woman’s. Either conception confers full rights, in which case abortion is forbidden any stage, or it does not, in which case we are arguing over degrees.

    It reminds me of the joke – a man to a woman. “Would you spend the night with me for $1M?”, he asks. “I might”, replies the lady. “Would you sleep with me for $100″. “Certainly not! What do you think I am!”. “Madam, we have already established that – we are just haggling over the price!”

  74. 74 74 Harold

    Jefffry Sorensen “A mutation that reduces the likelihood of any potential pregnancy for any reason besides viability will necessarily reduce fecundity and be selected against.”

    Not necessarily – in species with a high care requirement, selection could well work in favor of getting a mate that will stick around. This strategy could lead to more surviving offspring. In evolutionary terms, viability means success at producing more offspring, not merely surviving.

    In simple terms, a woman that has 4 children through rape could end upwith fewer grandchildren than a woman that has 3 children with a partner.

  75. 75 75 Ken B

    @Jeffrey Sorenson:
    “From a theory standpoint, the neodarwinist would realize that the egg has no interest where the sperm comes from…”

    This is wrong. An egg may expect thousands of suitors, and might logically apply selection criteria should a mechanism to do so become available. Plus of course the claim Akin amde is about the woman’s body, the soma, and it can certainly care. Women’s bodies have an interest in finding males who will help raise and feed the child. It commonly expresses some of that cancern via normal sexual arousal but there is no logical reason why a rejection mechanism cannot be selected, should one arise via a mutation.

    I am not claiming there IS a mechanism. But there could be, and contrary to another of your mistaken claims, whether there is is a scientific question.

  76. 76 76 Ken Arromdee

    In my view Landsburg’s general MO is to “shock” us with the implications of eschewing the ad hominem and instead taking ideas, arguments and words seriously — that is, *at face value*.

    The problem here is that “ignore the ad hominem” can shade into “ignore the context”. This isn’t a random piece of misinformation. It has the potential, if believed when wrong, to hurt a lot of people, and it’s associated with an ideology that itself leads to a lot of people getting hurt. This mistake isn’t like saying that there are 57 states; it’s not made at random, and anyone who treads on this subject matter has a greater obligation to be thorough about being factual than they do about a random subject.

    It’s like claiming that there’s a Jewish conspiracy to control the banks, and then insisting that this claim be analyzed on a purely factual basis. The analysis will, of course, determine that it’s not factual, but you don’t stop there and claim that there’s nothing to be outraged about because anyone can get their facts wrong, and anyhow, you understand how he could make this mistake since several prominent bankers were Jewish.

    This isn’t even really an ad hominem. Claiming “this is wrong because of its associations and because of why he said it” is ad hominem. Claiming “this is wrong for reasons everyone can agree on, but it’s outrageous because of its associations and because of why he said it” isn’t.

  77. 77 77 Steve Landsburg

    Jeffrey Sorensen: As Ken B has pointed out, your understanding of the science is at least as inaccurate as Rep. Akin’s; in fact, I’d say moreso. That doesn’t make you a bad or stupid person; it just illustrates the sad truth that we can’t all be experts in everything. But it should, I think, give you maybe just a bit more sympathy for Rep. Akin’s own lack of expertise in this particular matter.

  78. 78 78 Steve Landsburg

    Ken Arromdee: These are points well taken. Thanks for stating them so well.

  79. 79 79 Ken B

    @Vic and Advo:
    Vic, I don’t agree with all of what Advo says, but his core insight, that there’s a *mindset* at work here with fundies is right on. And part of having such a mindset is the tendency to leap unquestioningly on any confirmatory claim. We see that with lefties too. I gave examples of Bush memes. Penn & Teller did some funny bits on recycling and new ager gullibility, look how people jumped all over bogus New Orleans reports. It’s not dishonesty at work, it’s switched off brains. In his circles he has doubtless been told ‘doctors have found’ etc.
    You can see that,as Advo suggests, pretty much anywhere fundies congregate.

  80. 80 80 Ken B

    @Ken Aromdee:
    But isn’t there an implied rebuke and a certain level of ironic mockery in solemnly taking an inflammatory claim seriously, at face value, and analysing it carefully to defang the emotional appeals? Jerry Falwell gives a stem-winder sermon after Katrina blaming homosexuals/beanie babies/Anne Rice, or whatever his bete du jour happens to be. Some shrewd fellow named Ken (I know, redundant) carefully, dispassionately dismantles the claim showing its absurdity. Without discussing Falwell’s bile or his animus directly our hypothetical Ken (and we need more Kens at TBQ) has I think pwned Falwell. That may not be an exact analogy to SL’s post here, but I think the notion still applies.

  81. 81 81 Ken B

    There is an excellent book A Natural History of Rape that discusses the science behind some of this. I recommend it highly.

  82. 82 82 Drew

    More on some of the possible mechanisms of post-conception miscarriage, which Prof Landsburg noted above.
    http://www.jessebering.com/post/27725276755/darwins-morning-after-pill-how-couples-who-want

    It strikes me that if this is true, the implication might be somewhat troubling for people that both believe we are intelligently designed and that abortion is bad. It was one thing when miscarriages could be blamed on ill health, something just going wrong, or weeding out unworkably damaged genomes. But this would basically involve God designing an intricate, rube-goldbergian immune response that, when it goes RIGHT, basically aborts babies (well, and also sometimes kills women in the process) when it turns out to be poor timing for the woman.

    On the other hand, I should add that, yet again, we’re dealing with biological systems that are incredibly complex, and also have been basically put into a bizarre environment (modern life) that evolution hasn’t had any time to deal with. This seems especially true when it comes to the immune system, which seems to be freaking right the heck out in us moderns. We’re in the stage of “just realizing how little we know about factors that seem to have major effects” of this sort of research, not in the stage where we have clear answers or explanations.

  83. 83 83 Harold

    Ken B. “It’s not dishonesty at work, it’s switched off brains.” I agree in part, but it is a form of dishonesty. It is not good enough to say “well I thought that was what doctors said” if you have deliberately ignored evidence to the contrary. You really have an obligation to look into it a bit to find out what they really say. Otherwise you can get away with whatever prejudice you have and claim honesty. Choosing to switch off your brain is dishonest.

    In this case it is not an obscure aspect of medicine. There are well known and well publicised cases of rape used as a weapon of war where many victims have become pregnant. I find it hard to believe Akin is ignorant of all this. To believe what Akin said requires more than casual mis-understanding; it requires a willful mis-reading of the evidence to such an extent that it is dishonest.

    “the tendency to leap unquestioningly on any confirmatory claim”. This is indeed very common, in many different areas of debate. We must always try to weigh all the evidence, rather than just picking the bits we like.

    Ken Arromdee: “Claiming “this is wrong because of its associations and because of why he said it” is ad hominem” I don’t think this is ad hominem. That would be “this is wrong because of other things he has said or done.”

  84. 84 84 Yancey Ward

    I think Landsburg has, more accurately than anyone I have seen anywhere, described what Akin said, and what Akin most likely meant in the exchange.

    The motive for what Akin said is quite clear to me- he did not want to make a firm statement against abortion in the case of rape, and was attempting to minimize the impact of such a ban by using suspect reasoning/information. This was a case of political malpractice on his part.

    What is interesting to me is that it took only the second comment to highlight the real problem- there is no middle ground in this debate.

  85. 85 85 Ken B

    @Harold: Well I kinda agree but I don’t want to push the dishonesty too far. I recently had a battle with the owner of one of the blogs on Steve’s blogroll on pretty much this same issue. Scroll down on my blog for casting stones, and links to the blog. Sometimes a refusal to investigate IS a form of dishonesty, but I think that the asertion needs to be challenged first before you can make an issue of it. Groups share a lot of unquestioned assumptions. Most Americans believe independence was declared on July 4th for instance.
    I see Akin as brain-switched-off and complacent. I don’t think he was trying to *mislead* with his science claim.

  86. 86 86 Ken Arromdee

    But isn’t there an implied rebuke and a certain level of ironic mockery in solemnly taking an inflammatory claim seriously, at face value, and analysing it carefully to defang the emotional appeals…

    Steven wasn’t analyzing the inflammatory claim to defang the emotional appeal of the claim. He was analyzing it to defang the emotional appeal of opposition to the claim. I suppose technically this is still an appeal to emotion, but it’s the exact opposite of the example you’re comparing it to. Logically analyzing Falwell’s sermon to take apart Falwell is quite different from, by analogy, logically analyzing Falwell’s sermon to take apart the people who are outraged by Falwell.

  87. 87 87 Ken B

    @Ken Aromdee: You are right, which is why I said it wasn’t a perfect analogy. But simulataneously Steve is acting as a critic of Akin’s claim, and doing it dispassionately. He was not just analyzing the hysterical reactions to him. I agree most of the implict criticism is aimed at what in comments 66 and 68 we learned to call trolls. But that’s where most of it is deserved.

  88. 88 88 David Wallin

    I’m late in this thread. Let me just praise your analysis here, Steve. What amazes me is the inability of some to discuss this issue (Akin) without debating abortion. I have found it quite informative to ask people to explain to me a position that prohibits abortion (excluding mother’s life issues) that allows exceptions for rape or incest. Not whether it is right or wrong—just is it logical. I’m sure they think they know my stance on the big issue, and I’m pretty sure they’re wrong.

  89. 89 89 Ken B

    @David Wallin:
    I can give you one right now. You made the choice, live with the consequences.

    [That basically is the resposne the sire gets under our current abortion law btw.]

    Please note (to head off the trolls) I do NOT endorse that argument. But it is logically consistent.

  90. 90 90 Jeffrey Sorensen

    I don’t claim that there is no scientific question here, I only claim that this question is very difficult to address using the tools of science as we cannot conduct controlled or blind experiments to answer these questions. Sure you can do some kinds of studies, but they are extraordinarily difficult even if this wasn’t a politically charged area.
    Regarding the objections to my admitted simplification: yes human reproduction is pretty complicated, but all of the proposed social/behavioral selections, such as choosing care giving mates, are largely irrelevant to the evolution of a biological mechanism to accomplish the same task. In fact, that humans can do careful mate selection and can allocate care giving post birth reduces the potential benefit of an automatic biological mechanism. And thus reduces its plausibility and the “reasonableness” of assuming that there might be one despite their being scant evidence of such.
    The idea that eggs may do some kind of sperm selecting would be significant news. From the eggs perspective, the first one there is as good as any.
    The miscarriage mechanism is more likely highly tuned to detecting genetic defects than anything else mentioned here, that’s an amazing feat in itself.
    If I’m making Akin level mistakes about science or biology, you’re not demonstrating it here.

  91. 91 91 Ken B

    Jeffrey Sorenson: “but all of the proposed social/behavioral selections, such as choosing care giving mates, are largely irrelevant to the evolution of a biological mechanism to accomplish the same task.”

    This is like saying legs are irrelevant to the evolution of locomotion.

    They ARE biological mechanisms and their evolution is evidence of the importance of the concern. In fact the existence of one imperfect method makes more likely the existence of another.

    The evolution of social and behavioural patterns that allows us to store food doesn’t mean we won’t evolve fat cells too. Nature does not pick one idea and send out a notice, the rest of you work on something else.

    “The idea that eggs may do some kind of sperm selecting would be significant news. ” Indeed. The kind of news reported in science publications. You so sure there aren’t any? But the claim isn’t just the egg, but the woman’s body, of which the egg is part. And there is a raft of literature on sperm selection and genetic tugs of war between male-linked and female-linked genes.

    “If I’m making Akin level mistakes about science or biology, you’re not demonstrating it here.” No, you are.

  92. 92 92 Ken B

    An amusing current case study in brain-switched off conclusion jumping from Oiho http://twitchy.com/2012/08/22/bias-doh-egg-on-face-wapo-wrongly-claimed-obama-ohio-flub-magically-photoshopped/

  93. 93 93 David Wallin

    Re 89 Ken B
    To which I then must ask (not you, but whoever contends that): why is the zygote/embryo/potential-child of a rapist less worthy of protection than one of any other man?

    I always assumed the political positioning went as follows. Imagine a Republican who thinks Roe v. Wade should stay. He can say he’s anti-abortion, knowing he will never be able to really do anything about it. He’ll make an exception for mother’s health, because I hope, everybody sees that as a correct “no brainer.” And, he’ll allow exceptions for rape and incest. Why these exceptions? As we have seen with the Akin issue, those wanted abortion legal throw a special fit if you are:”so extreme” as to not have these exceptions. Many of your anti-abortion potential supporters are fine with these exceptions. And, the no-exception (rape/incest) folk must like you better than the other guy who wants abortion legal.

  94. 94 94 Ken B

    @David Wallin:
    As I said I don’t defend the position. But the position I outlined isn’t *about* defending the fetus. In fact it seems more consistent with placing little or no value on the blastocyst. It’s about *making people take responsibility for their choices.* If you think that goal trumps all others then you can consistently hold the positions you mentioned. Under the same rational you’d give AZT only to rape victims, not the sexually active.

    I realize I am simplifying the position almost to a parody, for illustration. But you only asked for a consistent position! Sensible ones cost extra.

    I agree with you that if the overriding concern is the fetus then it’s hard. But for most it will be a balance. I’m not so sure you call someone inconsistent when he says A and B both matter and sometimes A more than B.

  95. 95 95 Steve Landsburg

    David Wallin (#88 and #93):

    I imagine the argument goes like this: 1) We place a high value on saving the fetus. 2) We place some positive value on sparing women from unwanted pregnancies, the exact value varying with the woman’s circumstances. 3) That value is, on average, higher when the woman has been raped. 4) We believe that most of the time, the value we place on saving the fetus exceeds the value we place on saving the woman from an unwanted pregnancy, but when the woman has been raped, this inequality is often reversed. 5) We want a policy that maximizes expected value over a large number of cases.

  96. 96 96 Ken Arromdee

    Steven: That argument may be consistent with a belief that abortion is bad, but it’s not consistent with a belief that abortion is killing an innocent person, at least unless the speaker is willing to put a much lower value on not killing an innocent person than anyone would accept.

  97. 97 97 David Wallin

    Steve: (95) A well articulated alternative. So, how many who take the “exception” stance would ever come to such a conclusion? Then, of course, we imagine that the case could be made for exceptions for the women’s mental health (forcing her to complete the pregnancy would drive her over the edge). I suggest that argument would not hold well with the “exception” folks. Of course, I may suspect that becuase I think many of the “exception” folks support the approach Ken B brought up (not supported ) rephrased as: keeping an unwanted pregnancy is the price you pay for your actions.

  98. 98 98 Ezadarque

    Steven,

    I am sorry if someone has already said something similar to what I am going to say, I must confess I didn’t read everything.
    I think what people find offensive about his remark is what it implies, when there is admittedly so little evidence to support it. If the female body has ways of shutting the whole thing down when it is actually raped, then most of the people that did get pregnant after an alleged raped were not really raped after all. They had consensual sex, regretted it and now they are accusing their partner of a heinous crime. That is a very grave accusation to make, on so many different women. If Atkin is wrong – which even you reckon he probably is – this a grave accusation on specially distressed people.
    It is not an exaggeration to compare it to “from what I heard from historians, most slaves never objected to being slaves” or awful things like that.

  99. 99 99 Ken B

    @Ezdarque: I think there’s a big difference. Akin’s protection mechanism is purely involuntary, and subjectively indetectable. There is a big difference between saying there is some biological process you are unaware of going on and your claim about slavery.

    And can we at least get the facts right? Akin never denied rape can lead to pregnancy. That is pretty plain on its face from what he actually said. So your whole argument about it being an ‘accusation’ is just piffle.

  100. 100 100 Bill S

    I didn’t find the original post at all convincing, and I think Vic and KenB basically nailed the reasons.

    Item #3 “from what I understand from doctors” is not the same as “here’s what I’ve heard”. It’s “here’s what experts in the field say”, which includes the premise “I’ve checked with experts on the field on this”. Unless you can come up with more than one expert who believes this — and consulted with Akin on it — it’s dishonest.

    Item #6, it seems to me, is relatively blatant spin. The “ways to shut that thing down” theory is strongly relevant to Akin’s argument. It’s a way of persuading people to adopt the same policy position on abortion restrictions. He doesn’t have “a major obligation” to get that right? The guy’s running for the Senate, no? Where he will make policy on this. Which he’s already doing in the House.

    I guess I don’t see your arguments, Steve, as offered in good faith. They seem a lot like a lawyer’s closing arguments for his client — constructed for a purpose, not in a disinterested manner. The lawyer wants money. And you want … traffic? Which I have obligingly provided.

  101. 101 101 Drew

    Ken B:
    I agree that photoshop thing was stupid (it was based off of seeing the press photo, and not realizing there had been multiple photos). But the original “hit” was equally as insulting to the intelligence. Whether or not someone has his hands in the right position in a group coordination thing when this or that photo was snapped has nothing to do with anyone’s ability to spell. It was a lame, lame attempt to frame a non-event as something that conformed to people’s bizarre ODS.

    There’s more and more of a tendency now, especially with the advent of twitter, for people to jump between jokes/exaggerations and a basic sense of resentment to things they actually seem to take seriously on some level. I enjoy jibes and snark myself, but a lot of the humor seems to be drained out of it when you realize what is happening.

    A claim will be made. It’s partly, but not wholly, problematic, and often it depends on the context or interpretation. People will then exaggerate it or take it to the extreme, or take it out of context, with the implication that they are doing so jokingly. But then, within _hours_, we’ll be discussing it as if the exaggerated version was the actual, original statement. That happened most memorably with “I like [being able] to fire people” (a statement about a general state of affairs that it’s important to preserve) becoming some statement about Romney enjoying the actual act of firing people (a full-on character attack).

    And, as another example, then the same happened with “either Romney was committing a felony, or he was misleading people about his role at Bain” becoming “they said mitt Romney is a felon!” One could certainly make the case that the former was a cheap way of implying the latter (though imho, it was a more way of implying the latter). But that’s beside the point: editing a claim in your imagination to the most outrageous form and then, on repetition, acting as if the editing had never occurred, or that your interpretation need no longer be presented as such, is a pretty bad practice.

    I honestly think people don’t even think about the fact that they’re doing this anymore: they just do it without even noticing. I’m guilty of it sometimes myself.

  102. 102 102 Jimbino

    Somebody needs to bring up the self-defense option that the pregnant woman, whether raped or not, has:

    I someone touches you without your consent for 9 months, especially if all the while threatening you with death or seriously bodily injury, regardless of whether the person is touching you voluntarily or involuntarily, regardless of whether you consented to the original touching (“No means No at any time), you have the right in self-defense to kill that person, especially if that is the only way to stop the unwanted touching.

    Ergo, a woman ALWAYS has the right to abort ANY fetus in self defense.

  103. 103 103 Martin-2

    Ken B (99): Ezdarque looks right to me. Akin said “… that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”. Statistics show the number of rapes and resulting pregnancies in this country, and from this nobody has observed that pregnancies are “really rare”. Akin’s biological evidence, if true, would suggest the number of reported pregnancies is unrealistic. Thus many women are lying.

    Jimbino: That argument runs both toward you and the fetus. Remember Coase.

  104. 104 104 Jimbino

    What Coase can’t apply to is the bodily integrity of autonomous persons.

  105. 105 105 Martin-2

    Jimbino: Not his whole theory, just the recognition of symmetry. The fetus imposes a deadly cost on the mother, the mother counters by imposing a deadly cost on the fetus. The mother doesn’t consent to being touched by the fetus and threatened with bodily injury, the fetus doesn’t consent to being touched by the mother and threatened with abortion. Do they each have the right to kill each other?

  106. 106 106 Martin-2

    Jimbino: One more thing. There’s an industrial accident and Bob’s hand winds up glued to Joe’s arm. They must wait 9 months for surgery. Can Joe kill Bob if it’s the only available alternative? Your idea of self-defense says “yes” very clearly.

  107. 107 107 iceman

    @Ken A #86: Sure context matters. To me the best example is one you didn’t mention but others did – he’s not a guy on the street, he makes law on these matters, so he may have an obligation to express himself more clearly. (You said rather “*anyone* who treads on this subject matter…”). But it also seems that’s kind of a derivative concern, i.e. we also only care about it to the extent we believe a priori a comment is either wrong or at least not widely understood. In that respect, to me you undermine your point when you assert as premise that he’s not just “mistaken” (we agree that need not be ‘ad hominem’ so long as we’re not implying ulterior motives), but “wrong for reasons everyone can agree on”. I’m not sure what else can *that* can imply, other than he’s either stupid or a liar? And regarding your premise, it seems based on this thread that there is some evidence life may be a bit more complicated than at least I was aware.

    BTW for what it’s worth I literally had not heard of Mssr. Akin until yesterday, and I personally believe there has to be room for reasonable compromise on this most difficult issue (e.g. even some libertarians believe a fetus has no ‘right’ to live off the host; to me even from that standpoint there may still be a question of how we treat an ‘invited guest’). But surely we’re best served at least acknowledging that process is complicated by the fact that exceptions can become loopholes.

  108. 108 108 Jimbino

    Martin-2,

    There’s no symmetry between an autonomous person and a thing. Of course the woman can remove a splinter, any time she wants. And if Bob’s hand winds up glued to Joe’s arm, yes, he can take off the arm without consulting anyone. He can even pick up a baby at his feet to take a bullet meant for him. Self-defense is 100%.

  109. 109 109 Scott H.

    I searched the internet for the past hour in order to answer the seemingly simple question: how rare is a forcible rape pregnancy?

    What did I learn? (Well, not the answer…)

    However hard people on the right are spinning to make the number small, the people on the left are spinning to make the number large. Both sides care about this argument enough to not analyze the data each receives via its “group-think” channels.

    Typical anti-abortion sites come up with 200 per year.
    The ACOG estimates 32,000 per year.*
    Only a 16,000% difference!

    * ACOG estimate includes non-forcible rapes.

  110. 110 110 Doug

    Those of us on the right need to accept facts. The mainstream media is orders of magnitude more charitable to brushing over outrageous statements made by those on the left. If the left was under anywhere near the scrutiny the right was subjected to on this issue Maxine Waters would be on the front page everyday.

    Clearly overall the right is correct about more things than the left, yet the media is complicit in glossing over all the inaccurate statements made by those on the left, while zero-ing in on those made by the right.

    The typical person is presented with the belief that the side of the political spectrum most often associated with ignorance is in fact the educated and enlightened one.

    The solution for the right shouldn’t be to whine or complain. That won’t accomplish anything. It should be to ruthlessly purge the inaccuracies and idiots as much as possible. Milton Friedman, not Sarah Palin.

    The fewer sensationalist news stories the NYT can run about some stupid statement or some creationist politician, the more the right can attack the glaring nonsense on the left. The more the mainstream media will be forced to cover this. Let’s see how Marxist economics, the complete denial of the genetic component of human intelligence, and the belief that oceans will rise by 20 feet over the next century actually hold up when they’re forced into the spotlight.

  111. 111 111 Scott F

    @SL #95
    While I understand the logic in your argument some statistics do not back it.
    If we compare the US and Norway; the US has fairly stringent abortion laws in certain areas, whereas Norway has abortions available on demand.
    Notwithstanding, Norway has fewer abortions (that is a lower rate).
    Thus, short of making abortions illegal, which does not guarantee them not being performed, it seems that open access minimizes fetuses lost.
    This example may be cherry picked (not on purpose, as it’s the only counterexample I’m privy to at present), but it’s illustrative that minimization of lost fetuses may be accomplished without restriction to abortion.

  112. 112 112 Scott H.

    If you’ve ever taken a statistics course in your life you need to change your name to Scott F-.

    =)

  113. 113 113 Martin-2

    Jimbino (108): Bob is free to cut off Joe’s arm and Joe is free to cut off Bob’s arm. How do we know this is for the best? Why does one person’s right to comfort and privacy supersede another person’s right to a full set of limbs?

    “There’s no symmetry between an autonomous person and a thing.” True, but your self-defense argument is built on the premise that the zygote is human.

  114. 114 114 Jeffrey Sorensen

    Even if one could demonstrate that pregnancy rates from assault rapes are lower than what we would expect by chance, you would still need to account for the real possibility that rapists could time their attacks to avoid periods of ovulation.
    And, in the absence of clear evidence that there is such a (mostly ineffective) rape defense mechanism in woman’s anatomy I find that no reasonable person can believe that such a mechanism does exist.
    It seems like most commentators are arguing that such systems are possible, even ones that somehow interfere with fertilization, implantation, and the rate of miscarriage. Some are ancient systems that we, for some reason, see no evidence of in other organisms. Others are recent human adaptations. With all of these plausible systems floating around (sadly with no evidence) I wonder why we need birth control at all.
    What I can believe is that Akin actually did hear this nonsense from doctors, some of whom are fabricating beliefs and spreading disinformation to achieve political ends. But as a legislator it is Akin’s responsibility to be better informed.

  115. 115 115 Andrew

    A: Can someone troll their own blog?

    B: Mr. Akin has also proved why it’s better for politicians to simply repeat words like ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ on the campaign trail. The last guy to go with that strategy is about to be a two term president.

  116. 116 116 Ken B

    @Martin-2:
    A few points. First let’s say you are Ezadarque are right about the logical implications of Akin’s position. That still does not mean Akin is accusing anyone of anything. It means there is a strong contradictory piece of evidence he must grapple with. That’s a long, long way form a deliberate accusation.

    Second, implicit in his comment about actual rape not just reported-as-rape-so-I-can-evade-the-restriction is *already* the contention that some women will lie about being raped. But no-one denies that if the only way to get a legal abortion is to claim you were raped there will be false claims of rape. The ‘body trying’ stuff doesn’t factor into that. There is no implication, as there would be were Azadarque correct, that many of the women who got pregnant from rape *but want to keep the child* are lying.

    It’s pretty clear what is going on here. Akin opposes abortion. He opposes it even in cases of rape. This will cause a lot of suffering. He naturally wants to believe the suffering is small. He is therefore inclined to swallow any favourable meme. Like people who swallow trhat Palin said “I can see Alaska from house.” You can argue that as a putative leader, a man who asks us to trust his judgment, who eagerly took upon himself the responsibility for making these decisions, that his ignorance is irresponsible and blameworthy. But that’s a long way from the charges we see, or that Ezadarque made.

  117. 117 117 Ken B

    @Drew: Did I say one side was blameless?

    It seems obvious what happened really. The Obama group spelled Ohiuo correctly *for the way they were facing*. They didn’t think from the audience viewpoint. This was latchhed onto by a Romney office as an embarassment for Obama. Well it is I guess in a small meaningless way. People who seriously conclude the Obami cannot spell Ohio just have their brains switched off.

    More significant I think is the Wapo’s immediate conclusion, which is PLAINLY wrong.. That shows exactly what I was referring to: uncritical acceptance of a confirmatory meme. It requires a brain to be switched off.

  118. 118 118 Gordon

    Steve Landsburg,

    Wow, that is either some very sloppy argumentation or deliberate spin (if you have some dog in this fight) or deliberate contrivance to be provocative.

    2) It seems to me, from what I understand from news sources, that the female body does not in fact have ways of recognizing rape and preventing conception. I have absolutely no expertise in this matter; therefore my understanding might be wrong. Nevertheless, I’m happy to pass that understanding along.

    In other words, based on your good-faith effort to determine what is valid, and in turn based on your review of the reporting of professional reporters, presumably with sufficient competence and impartiality to be credible, reporting what experts (also presumably credible) had told them (apparently with clarity, with very little/no room for doubt, and per strong/complete consensus among these experts), it seems to you that Akin’s claim was bogus.

    3) It also seems to me that the phrase “from what I understand from doctors” says, in effect, “I am not an expert, so this might be wrong, but here’s what I’ve heard”. It is not unreasonable for people to make statements like this. In fact, I did it myself, just one paragraph back.

    Are you kidding me???????

    First of all, you gloss over the distinction between someone with the power to influence very important, related government policy – and who is seeking even greater power to have even greater influence – with “people” in general, obviously mostly including those without such power. A Congressman running for U.S. Senate, particularly one to whom abortion policy is an issue of particular focus (but even if not), who is advocating for some abortion policy and very publicly addressing a common objection to his favored policy, has a much greater obligation to make a good-faith effort to seek and determine associated key facts to a reasonable extent, rather than to choose publicly respond (and to choose his policy position in the first place) based on, at best, very, very lazy fact-finding (using that term extremely loosely in this case) that he finds convenient to his position.

    Second, in your absurdly broad phrasing of “here’s what I heard”, you conflate a good-faith effort to fact-find (even if not extensive, but sufficient on a common sense basis to reach a given conclusion with sufficient confidence for the purpose) with the kind of conveniently lazy fact-finding (or perhaps “favorable premise-seeking” is a better term) exhibited by Akin.

    Give me a friggin’ break.

    4) A great many of the commentators who jumped to assure you that Akin was wrong about the science did so with no more justification than Akin himself — they, like I, were merely repeating what they’d heard from others. Unlike Akin, most of them made no effort to include that qualification. That gives him, I think, the higher ground on this issue.

    Re: “they, like I, were merely repeating what they’d heard from others”, well, in some cases probably yes, but some probably did a similar sort of research that you did – either consulting with experts (or their writing) themselves or reviewing reporting with expert commentary. And as I say above, there is a huge difference between a layperson forming a view based on credible reporting of credible experts vs. some other form of “heard from others”. You must know this.

    As for the other commentators about whom I assume you are correct, let me point out for myself that, amid the reporting and media commentary on Akin’s remark, and before I read Landsburg’s post, and also (to that point) before I had done fact-finding on this question, I had an exchange with a friend about this topic. My friend initiated it with an email that, referring to Akin and to his remark, stated simply:

    D**khead.

    I take it there is no need to debate this?

    In my reply, one point I made was:

    the media should, as a matter of professionalism as journalists, ask physicians (or other experts) to what extent, if any, a woman is less likely to conceive as the result of the clearly forcible rape vs. “willing” statutory rape, vs. other forms of rape, and vs. sex that is no sort of rape by any definition. As a note, Akin didn’t say it’s impossible; he said it’s “really rare” and that the female’s body has ways to “try to” prevent conception. Obviously I’m no expert, and I can’t rule out or consider completely ridiculous (without seeing what experts say) the question of whether a traumatic episode, perhaps particularly with physical trauma to the vagina, could significantly reduce the probability of conception.

    So I had the same criticism of at least the reporting and media commentary – it at least often didn’t reveal expert opinion, but rather just reported/commented as if everyone should just assume there was no validity to what Akin said.

    But that has nothing to do with your absurd defense of Akin’s comment.

    6) Akin was defending the view that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape. If the “ways to shut that thing down” theory were central to his argument, then he’d have a major obligation to have gotten it right. But he says pretty explicitly that it’s not central to his argument. His argument is that a zygote is a human being and human beings should not be destroyed for the sins of their fathers. That’s an argument worth attacking. It’s also an argument worth defending, and it’s the argument Akin wanted to defend.

    Again, I must shake my head and ask…Are you KIDDING me ??????????

    Steve Landsburg, I find it impossible that you are unaware of the following: Akin, who is, again, an elected official with power and seeking (from the public) greater power to influence abortion policy, is making a two part argument. One is that rape should be irrelevant, per the argument you note: if we start with the premise that the zygote is a person, we shouldn’t let someone kill a person simply because the person was conceived via rape (and if I shared that premise, I would have that policy view, and I actually find it strange and usually illogical that some who do consider a zygote/embryo/fetus a person would want exceptions for rape, for exactly this reason). But the other argument he is making is that everyone who disagrees with his first argument (presumably because they disagree with his premise that the zygote is a person, but for whatever reason), and who is determining his/her policy preference, should, in any case, greatly discount the consideration of the plight of women in the scenario of whatever he means by “legitimate rape” because such cases are “extremely rare”. He thought this second argument was important enough to make publicly (and to inform his own position), and it is borderline outrageous for you to content that he DOESN’T have a “major obligation to [get] it right” simply because it’s “not central to his argument”.

    So Steve (if I may call you Steve), what the heck is up with all this ridiculous argumentation from you?

  119. 119 119 Ken B

    D**khead.

    I take it there is no need to debate this?

    What I like about TBQ is that is central theme is questioning just this kind of reflexive, intolerant, close-minded conclusion-jumping. Most issues deserve debate, and often the conclusions people feel strongest about are the ones that need debate the most.

  120. 120 120 neil wilson

    Steve Landsburg wrote “Neil Wilson (#9):

    Todd Akin attributed something largely inaccurate to “What I understand from doctors”. You attribute something wholly inaccurate to what you “seem to remember”. Akin was speaking off the cuff; you were at your keyboard and could easily have checked the record. Maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to cast stones.”

    OK, I went back to your post. Maybe I should have done it prior to writing my post but I trusted my memory.

    “There’s one place where I part company with Rush, though: He wants to brand Ms. Fluke a “slut” because, he says, she’s demanding to be paid for sex. There are two things wrong here. First, the word “slut” connotes (to me at least) precisely the sort of joyous enthusiasm that would render payment superfluous. A far better word might have been “prostitute” (or a five-letter synonym therefor), but that’s still wrong because Ms. Fluke is not in fact demanding to be paid for sex. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) She will, as I understand it, be having sex whether she gets paid or not. Her demand is to be paid. The right word for that is something much closer to “extortionist”. Or better yet, “extortionist with an overweening sense of entitlement”. Is there a single word for that?

    But whether or not he chose the right word, what I just don’t get is why the pro-respect crowd is aiming all its fire at Rush. Which is more disrespectful — his harsh language or Sandra Fluke’s attempt to pick your pocket? That seems like a pretty clear call to me. ”

    So, he said she wasn’t a slut, he said a whore was “a far better word” and then in the last paragraph Steve writes “But whether or not he chose the right word…” I still think a fair reading of that paragraph was to defend Rush when he called Sandra Fluke a slut.

    So, was my memory so bad? I know you can weasel out of calling Ms. Fluke a whore but it is a reasonable reading of what you wrote.

    On the other hand, off the cuff comments might be held to a higher standard than off the cuff verbal answers to questions. But, I assume you agree, that blog posts should be held to an even higher standard.

  121. 121 121 Ken B

    Re 120: So you admit Neil that your recollection was wrong, and that SL did not defend RL for calling Fluke a slut. Since your interest here seems to be point-scoring rather than debating we might as well get an accurate score. Steve 1 Neil 0.

    “But whether or not he chose the right word …” is in no way at all a defense of the word used. It is an attempt to discuss another point that can be considered interesting no matter how one feels about the word. That’s what the ‘whether or not’ part means.

  122. 122 122 contra

    Re: 120
    The perfect word for Sandra Fluke was found in that thread by Joker:

    “Joker: Steve, the word you are looking for is contraceptive sponge.
    Steve Landsburg: Joker: You are a genius.”

  123. 123 123 Ken B

    So you are telling me that if Rush Limbaugh calls someone a slut and you write a post where you call her a prostitute then it is not a reasonable assumption that part of the point of the post is to defend the use of both synonyms to describe the same person.

    @Neil: This is addressed to our host but let me interject an answer. Steve did not call Fluke a whore. That seems a sufficient reutation of your claims.

  124. 124 124 Bob_Mac

    My $0.02:

    I would say that SL’s interpretation of Akin’s remarks are somewhat more ‘charitable’ than I would interpret them. That being said, characterizing his arguments as ‘trolling’ is way offside. Trolling certainly implies a combination of a dishonest and deliberately inflammatory purpose. The old ‘F-U’ was deserved.

    Limbaugh on the other hand, went flying off into misogyny-land (arguably I suppose but it seemed clear to me). IMHO, somebody demanding that somebody else pay for something they want is almost always deserving of pointed scorn and criticism, but “slut”? No, don’t think so. Entitled? Immoral? Yep, I can see that. Slut? Again, offside.

    The abortion issue, for me, is a conundrum. And I haven’t seen this articulated here. Pro Life and Pro Choice positions are both problematic. To me, the question is NOT whether a fetus is a life, but whether or not a woman has or should have FULL control/liberty over her own body or not. Does she have the right to end her fetus’ life or not? To me, it’s a liberty thing. For me, erring on the side of liberty is the way to go, while acknowledging the high cost it entails in this case.

    Bob

  125. 125 125 Ken B

    Bob_Mac: “To me, the question is … whether or not a woman has or should have FULL control/liberty over her own body”

    Bob, the thing is I have met precious few who actually believe that, despite their protestations. Here are some of the things that you have to agree should be legalized:

    -aborting the fetus if it is female or the father is black
    -unrestricted drug use
    -unrestricted drug use, including thalidomide, while pregnant and planning to give birth
    -selling yourself into slavery
    -leaving quarantine while infected with small pox
    -agreeing to be murdered, chopped up and eaten by a German cannibnal (in any order)

    If you can accept all these then I think your position is arguable and defensible. I am trying to avoid discussing whether abortion should be legal, but I think you can build a case for it easier if you start just by acknowledging an acorn is not a tree.

  126. 126 126 Bob_Mac

    Ken B,

    “-aborting the fetus if it is female or the father is black
    -unrestricted drug use
    -unrestricted drug use, including thalidomide, while pregnant and planning to give birth”

    Yes, as ugly as this may be.

    “-selling yourself into slavery”

    Don’t get this. The inalienable right thing I get, the connection I do not.

    “-leaving quarantine while infected with small pox”

    No, not at all. The only possible physical harm in abortion is to the mother and/or child.

    “-agreeing to be murdered, chopped up and eaten by a German cannibnal (in any order)”

    Yeah, why not?

    This is ugly. The alternative is worse – arguably.

    Bob

  127. 127 127 Bob_Mac

    And the slavery thing.

    My position I believe is still consistent with a position that one is free to do anything except permanently give up one’s freedom. Of course we have the problematic exception when it comes to harming others with your own freedom. I have to go with an exception on this one. The exception is a biologically non-autonomous individual (that can only be supported by the person in question). I hate this, but again, the alternative is worse.

    When a fetus can be brought to term in a jar, then we’ll have a less ugly choice.

  128. 128 128 Bob_Mac

    I think the crux of the problem here is that the standard liberty argument fails when it connects to other people because this simply cannot apply when you have two people (arguably, but let’s assume that the fetus is a person) who are biologically inseparable.

    You have two ‘people’ conceptually, but one biologically. This is a divide by zero error it seems. Gotta wing it I think no?

  129. 129 129 Ken B

    @Bob_Mac:
    Selling yourself into slavery is part of FULL, that is unrestricted, control over your own body.

    Same with leaving quarantine. You haven’t even committed a crime here, but FULL control of your body is being denied. But consider another hypothetical. You are exposed to Ebola, but refuse the instant-cure injection. Or you have HIV and have sex without telling anyone.

    I’m not saying you have to balk here. (I have an opinion but it’s not the point I’m aiming at.) I’m saying everyone I’ve discussed this with DOES balk at some point. And that is my point. The simple alleged principle about full control is brandished to end debate, to stake the high ground, to make it seem simple, but it isn’t even believed by most of those who cite it. So I say, let’s look for other, better, arguments. (I think there are such, and I think they favour choice.)

    You want I think to add some clause about harm or danger to others. Alas that re-opens the question of whether a fetus is a person.

  130. 130 130 Ken B

    @Bob_Mac: re 127:
    I note you have added a condition …

    I think you still have a problem. Roger says perhaps “You allow that a fetus is a person. You have a principle but you add an exception that prevents one thing, selling yourself. That seems arbitrary. It also seems odd, preventing a choice that harms you rahter than one that kills another person.” I think Roger has you.

    In short, I don’t think you can evade the question, is a fetus a human being, and how much of one?

  131. 131 131 Bob_Mac

    “Selling yourself into slavery is part of FULL, that is unrestricted, control over your own body.”

    Ok, perhaps, but this restriction itself doesn’t inherently conflict with a right to abort. It only conflicts with complete, absolute freedom.

    It could be argued that giving up freedom is not contained within the set of freedoms. Perhaps.

    “You haven’t even committed a crime here, but FULL control of your body is being denied.”

    Harming others, deliberately, is indeed a crime.

  132. 132 132 Bob_Mac

    With one, divide by zero, exception :-)

  133. 133 133 Val

    @scott_f, 111:
    Offhand, Norway likely has earlier and more comprehensive sex ed than does the US, with more easily available contraception.

    I’m doing poorly at finding useful links, but http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12178333 (re sex ed in Norway) and http://www.healthcommunities.com/teen-pregnancy/children/sex-education.shtml might be a start.

  134. 134 134 Ken Arromdee

    In that respect, to me you undermine your point when you assert as premise that he’s not just “mistaken” (we agree that need not be ‘ad hominem’ so long as we’re not implying ulterior motives), but “wrong for reasons everyone can agree on”. I’m not sure what else can *that* can imply, other than he’s either stupid or a liar?

    In this context, to say that everyone agrees on it means everyone in this conversation, not everyone in the world, so this doesn’t imply that Todd is a liar. Whether or not he’s stupid isn’t really relevant, but that statement doesn’t imply it either.

  135. 135 135 Ken Arromdee

    Let’s see how Marxist economics, the complete denial of the genetic component of human intelligence, and the belief that oceans will rise by 20 feet over the next century actually hold up when they’re forced into the spotlight.

    False claims concerning genetic components of human intelligence have, like false claims concerning rape victims, a history of being misused in horrible ways to hurt a lot of people, and are associated with doctrines that are also used to hurt a lot of people. That makes them extraordinary claims. So likewise, you need to take much more care than normal to be accurate about them and to make sure they do not result in misconceptions.

  136. 136 136 contra

    @135: “False claims [of a certain kind have had certain negative consequences]” ” That makes them extraordinary claims.”

    _False_ claims should of course be rejected for being false – once their falsity has been established, their being _extraordinary_ is already beside the point.

    Should _non-falsified_ claims be deemed extraordinary – requiring extraordinary evidence before they can be advanced and defended in public – merely because of their putarive _social consequences_?

    This was the position of Cardinal Bellarmino as against Galileo: Copernican views could be defended only if already _proved_ – and _then_ the Church would re-interpret the relevant parts of the Scripture; lacking proof, one could not inflict such dangerous changes on the existing order of things.

    Such a principle stifles the growth of understanding: for how can a hypothesis _acquire_ sufficient evidence, unless it is freely advanced and defended? Early versions of any idea generally contain much that proves indefensible (Galileo’s heliocentric views certainly did) – but it can evolve if freely discussed.

    Suppression of an obnoxious idea (such as the one voiced by Akin) on grounds of _social policy_ has a perverse effect: while the idea is weakened intellectually (for lack of study and discussion) it is strengthened emotionally – as a victim of persecution. It becomes a corrosive underground heresy – instead of perhaps evolving into something more true – and thus more beneficial.

  137. 137 137 Bob Murphy

    Steve Landsburg has such b*lls to put up this post, that no one could shut this whole thing down…

  138. 138 138 Ken B

    Jeffrey Sorenson:
    “And, in the absence of clear evidence that there is such a (mostly ineffective) rape defense mechanism in woman’s anatomy I find that no reasonable person can believe that such a mechanism does exist.”

    Sorry to pick on Jeffrey so much, but this is really a key point. Jeffrey is wrong not just in this statement but also in the axiom that seems to lie behind it. Let me identify the more general argument with a small edit:

    “And, in the absence of clear evidence that there is such a some result we cannot directly observe in daily life I find that no reasonable person can believe that such a mechanism does exist.”

    This is evidently absurd and I am confident that JS will not defend it. So why does he in fact apply it? Because people treat politically loaded results differently. Jeffry does, Akin does. My point here, and one of Steve’s in his post, is that that is just not a good idea.

    Over at econlog, on a Kling thread, we had this a very similar discussion on the question of whether natioanl average IQ can explain economic performance. And again we saw people failing to apply their brains dispassionately.

  139. 139 139 neil wilson

    Wow, you removed one of my posts!!!!

    Can you tell me why?

    You wrote in a blog post “A far better word might have been “prostitute” (or a five-letter synonym therefor)…”

    Was I wrong when I guessed what five letter word is a synonym for “slut” and “prostitute”?

    My email address is a real address I use every day.

    Wow! You want to promote dialog and you blocked my comment.

  140. 140 140 Ken B

    Neil Wilson:”Wow, you removed one of my posts!!!!”

    @Neil: ? I don’t see that a post was removed. Looking at the numbering I referred to 127 once, and the post I meant is still 127. Same with another posters reference o 135. So the post had to be after that or the numbering would be out. Your long crime against logic and language in 120 is still there too. Which post?

  141. 141 141 neil wilson

    yesterday, I had a post up and underneath in bright yellow, it said that the post was awaiting moderation.

    Again, I am relying on my memory so I could have the words wrong.

    Of course, I have been accused of being some sort of troll so maybe I am making the whole thing up. Or maybe my memory is bad.

    After all, I looked at the words and thought that Steven Landsburg said that a better name for Sandra Fluke was a prostitute or a whore than the slut that Rush Limbaugh had called her.

  142. 142 142 Ken B

    @Neil: Ahh, well I cannot comment of comments I have not read.

    As for 139, you compound your error. Let me illustrate. Let’s say Weil Nilson writes “Krugman calls Summers slippery. Well if Krugman thinks Summers is misleading a better word would be liar. But in fact Summers isn’t lying he’s correct. A better word would be soothsayer.” What would you say if Leve Standsburg trumpeted “Weil says liar is a better word for Summers.”? Because I would think that was dead wrong.

  143. 143 143 David Wallin

    I read Maureen Dowd’s take on this issue yesterday. Any student of mine who didn’t think SL provided auperior, reasoned take on this issue probably would have failed my class anyway.

  144. 144 144 Drew

    KenB:
    “More significant I think is the Wapo’s immediate conclusion, which is PLAINLY wrong. That shows exactly what I was referring to: uncritical acceptance of a confirmatory meme.”

    They made a mistake based on a faulty assumption (that there was only one picture: the main press picture released, and so someone must have photoshopped it), and then they corrected it when someone pointed out they were wrong.

    That’s a lot more than anyone can say for the people who really do continue to believe Obama couldn’t spell Ohio (the implication of the Buzzfeed piece, which seems to have invented the “got it right on a second try” story to play into this idea)… or who don’t _really_ believe that, but who enjoyed the happy feeling you get from flirting with believing something nasty a hated enemy.

  145. 145 145 Ken Arromdee

    _False_ claims should of course be rejected for being false – once their falsity has been established, their being _extraordinary_ is already beside the point.

    But one seldom knows a claim to be true or false to a 100% degree of certainty. The point is that you are obliged to be a lot more certain about some claims than others. Steven did not argue that Todd Akin was right–he couldn’t. But he did try to argue that Todd was being reasonable. Treating this kind of claim the way Todd did is not reasonable.

    Should _non-falsified_ claims be deemed extraordinary – requiring extraordinary evidence before they can be advanced and defended in public – merely because of their putarive _social consequences_?

    What do you mean by “non-falsified”? It’s one thing to be non-falsified because you did all the research, made valiant attempts to falsify it, and failed. It’s another thing to be non-falsified because you didn’t take reasonable steps to try to falsify it and you just believed it because it was convenient for your ideology. Todd Akin falls into the second category.

  146. 146 146 Ken Arromdee

    >blockquote>This was the position of Cardinal Bellarmino as against Galileo:

    No it isn’t.

    First of all, I didn’t demand that anything be “proven”, only that it be subjected to research much more thorough than Todd Akin did. Demanding better proof is not the same thing as demanding absolute proof.

    Second, I appealed to *historical* social consequences. Just saying that something could have horrible social consequences in the future is speculation; you can claim that anything might have horrible social consequences. Pointing out that similar false claims have had horrible social consequences in the past and could do so again is different. The church couldn’t say “a year ago someone proposed the Earth moves in a hexagonal orbit, they turned out to be wrong, but twenty people died from it”.

  147. 147 147 contra

    @Ken Arromdeem 145

    “But one seldom knows a claim to be true or false to a 100% degree of certainty.”

    Criteria of falsification differ by the field of inquiry: e.g. jurisprudence, history, biology, mathematics have quite different ones. But that difference is beside the point here. Once a claim is recognized as false by _whatever_ criteria apply, it is eo ipso rejected – and then its being extraordinary or ordinary does not matter any more…

    “It’s one thing to be non-falsified because you did all the research, made valiant attempts to falsify it, and failed. It’s another thing to be non-falsified because you didn’t take reasonable steps to try to falsify it”

    Of course the conjecture has greater verisimilitude in the _former_ of these two cases. However, it did _not_ possess that extra verisimilitude _before_ the “valiant attempts to falsify it” were made. Had it been banned from consideration _then_, it would never have _acquired_ its heightened status. Infant hypotheses need forbearance. Also, one person does not have the means for these valiant falsification efforts: a conjecture needs _public discussion_ to be properly tested.

    Granted, some conjectures look _so_ unpromising that one does not even _begin_ to consider them – just because human resources are limited. But they should never be neglected merely because they look unlovely – not like what we’d _wish_ to be true. (Recall the story of the Ugly Duckling.) My point was merely that _social consequences_ should not be a consideration in making intellectual choices: the social benefit of free inquiry trumps everything else.

    First learn the _truth_ (again, criteria of what passes for “truth” differ by the field of inquiry), _then_ handle the consequences. Until then, bold conjectures – even ugly ones – _ought_ to be voiced freely.

    More: when the truth is already found, but is not yet universally _recognized_, let even _mistaken_ opinions (like Akin’s) be voiced openly – if only to dispel them. Akin’s political gaffe will _contribute_ to clarifying the issue. Blame him as an incompetent politician – and as a biased thinker – but praise his honesty in saying what he believed to be true.

    We would have less residual racism, for example, if it were not driven underground, if its false premises were frequently discussed and refuted.

  148. 148 148 Ken B

    @Drew: If I send you one picture of my co-workers will you assume it’s photshopped because I sent one? No. Jumping to that conclusion and running with it is meaningful. Plus you can look at the picture itself. It wasnt just mirrored even that was the photoshop. It was a very clear indication of a prejudgement and bias.

  149. 149 149 Ken B

    Imagine a PBS documentary on the wisdom of nature. We come to the segment on how people often have no memory of a traumatic event. We get an talking head telling us how this protects victims. And that’s not all! The body has the wisdom (cue new age music) to fight off some forms of attack. Anticlotting agent is released even before a cut, when danger is sensed. A woman`s body, we are told, can even fight insemination after a rape. Isn`t that a good thing Nature has wisdom and secrets we are only beginning to fathom.

    My bet is that in this alternate history of this issue, where Akin`s claim of fact is framed as `the wisdom of the body`or `nature`s caring ways`we`d see nodding heads not outrage. And from, frankly, many of the same posters here currently in high dudgeon about how appalling and transparently absurd is Akin`s claim about internal chemical process none of us has any direct experience of.

  150. 150 150 Ken Arromdee

    Of course the conjecture has greater verisimilitude in the _former_ of these two cases. However, it did _not_ possess that extra verisimilitude _before_ the “valiant attempts to falsify it” were made. Had it been banned from consideration _then_, it would never have _acquired_ its heightened status.

    There is a difference between considering an idea, and announcing it as part of a political campaign and trying to base policy around it or to get other people to base policy around it. The former does not require the latter.

  151. 151 151 Ken Arromdee

    More: when the truth is already found, but is not yet universally _recognized_, let even _mistaken_ opinions (like Akin’s) be voiced openly

    I would certainly never suggest that we don’t let Akin express such views. But that doesn’t mean we should never criticize him for it.

  152. 152 152 Ken B

    “‘This was the position of Cardinal Bellarmino as against Galileo:’

    No it isn’t.

    First of all, I didn’t demand that anything be “proven”, only that it be subjected to research much more thorough than Todd Akin did.”

    @Ken Arromdee: Can you tell us exactly what research you have done into Cardinal Bellarmino before making that claim? I don’t demand that you prove your assertion, only that it be subjected to research much more thorough than Todd Akin did.

  153. 153 153 Chicago Jack

    C’mon Steve this topic is beneath you. If I want to hear about a topic where people are arguing over semantics, I would watch MSNBC or Fox news.

    Leave it be and let the idiots fight over spoiled meat. After one of them “wins”, the winner will just end up claiming the other side spoiled it.

    There are better ways to highlight the veiled ignorance of our assumptions that shed light on our faulty beliefs. Try harder next time.

  154. 154 154 Ken Arromdee

    @KenB: My claim about Bellarmino, such as it is (I didn’t make much of one) is not a case where historically, similar claims have been false and helped cause horrible things. Neither is it a claim mainly associated with groups that do horrible things. Furthermore, I’m not making the claim to millions of people nor do I have the ability to affect political policy except on a very small scale.

    So the reason for demanding stricter research in Todd Akin’s case doesn’t apply to me.

  155. 155 155 Ken B

    @Ken Arromdee: Neither then do they apply to Akin who
    made the claim tentative just as SL noted, and explicitly said his argument *and his vote* did not depend on that claim.

    As for your quite explicit guilt-by-association reason, “Neither is it a claim mainly associated with groups that do horrible things” is the sort of claim associated with the Inquisition, the KGB, and the Gestapo, all I believe groups that do horrible things. You see where this can lead.

  156. 156 156 Ken Arromdee

    Neither then do they apply to Akin who
    made the claim tentative just as SL noted, and explicitly said his argument *and his vote* did not depend on that claim.

    He made the argument to persuade others, as an alternative to people who didn’t accept his main argument. It’s a sort of third party sour grapes: “I don’t like grapes, but if you do, you shouldn’t want these because they’re sour anyway”.

    I also suggest you reread Nathan’s comment 70. He may not specifically have based his argument on that claim, but the claim is convenient for him because as long as he believes it he doesn’t have to face up to all the consequences of his beliefs.

    As for your quite explicit guilt-by-association reason, “Neither is it a claim mainly associated with groups that do horrible things” is the sort of claim associated with the Inquisition, the KGB, and the Gestapo, all I believe groups that do horrible things. You see where this can lead.

    I don’t recall the Inquisition, KGB, or Gestapo saying similar things to me.

    I do recall them saying that some ideas are bad and need to be punished, but I am not suggesting punishment, so the only similarity between me and them amounts to “some ideas are bad”. That is an extremely vague and generalized level of similarity.

  157. 157 157 Ken B

    Another hypothetical. Say some future research reveals that women who have been in a serious car crash get pregnant at a lower than expected rate. After due statistical analysis a researcher posits that as a protective mechanism the female body after a trauma undergoes changes that affect the uterine wall and make implantation less likely. This might promote healing of wounds etc. Who here will call that an odious suggestion? Who here can say with certainty this is impossible? Because such a mechanism would be just made to order for Akin’s theory.

  158. 158 158 Ken B

    Ken Arromdee:”He[Akin] may not specifically have based his argument on that claim, but the claim is convenient for him because as long as he believes it he doesn’t have to face up to all the consequences of his beliefs.” Exactly correct. If you think that is new to me then it you who needs to reread. This is precisely my contention. People switch their brains off when it comes to confirmatory rumours, claims, or suggestions. I have repeated that ad nauseum above I think. This gullibility is the basis of much pwnage. It is not the same as lying. The simplest explanation is that Akin has a basically fundie mindset and accepts uncritically a lot of stuff. As in different ways do we all.

  159. 159 159 Ken B

    Coming soon to a theatre near you: Confirmation Bias, The Greatest Crime Known

  160. 160 160 contra

    @151, Ken A. “I would certainly never suggest that we don’t let Akin express such views. But that doesn’t mean we should never criticize him for it.”

    Distinguo!

    It is right and proper to criticize his (IMO) mistaken views – but not his temerity in expressing them. His expressing them is
    a precondition for your criticizing them: if the latter is good,
    so must be the former… He deserves praise (politics aside!)
    for a contribution to public discourse.


    An error expressed is a step closer to becoming an error corrected.
    An error suppressed is a step away from becoming an error corrected

    - even if it is suppressed, not by the methods of the Inquisition, but by the loud hissing of political correctness enforcers.

  161. 161 161 Ken Arromdee

    Another hypothetical. Say some future research reveals that women who have been in a serious car crash get pregnant at a lower than expected rate. After due statistical analysis a researcher posits that as a protective mechanism the female body after a trauma undergoes changes that affect the uterine wall and make implantation less likely. This might promote healing of wounds etc. Who here will call that an odious suggestion

    Unless there is a past history of false claims about women in car crashes being used as an excuse to mistreat women who have been in car crashes, or unless there are religions which mistreat women who have been in car crashes and would be helped by such statements, the reasons I gave would not apply to your hypothetical.

  162. 162 162 Ken B

    @contra: Really well put.

  163. 163 163 Ken Arromdee

    It is right and proper to criticize his (IMO) mistaken views – but not his temerity in expressing them.

    I’m not criticizing “his temerity in expressing them” in that sense. I’m criticizing his temerity for using them without sufficient research.

  164. 164 164 Ken B

    @Ken Arromdee:

    re 163, Stipulating for him some standard of research he must demonstrate IS criticizing his temerity.

    re 161: You have missed my point. The bicycle was just the way the effect was discovered. I wanted to get away from the motives of researchers. But the effect itself is PRECISELY the effect Akin contends exists: the body reacts chemically to a violent assault in a way that reduces the chances of impregnation.

    That may or may not be the case. It isn’t inherently crazy, sexist, racist, or implausible.

  165. 165 165 iceman

    @Ken A #134: I guess I’m not even seeing everyone here agreeing on it, and if we did I don’t see how that wouldn’t imply Akin is either an ignoramus or “dissembling” (both would seem relevant), especially if he’s obliged to be better informed than us. Of course “ad hominem” is all about timing; once something has been demonstrated to be clearly wrong, it may be factual to call its proponents stupid / brainwashed etc. (‘liar’ is more speculative of intent). Jumping to that to short-circuit debate is problematic. Your “context” seems to be basically an a priori view that he’s clearly wrong. You also seem to reveal a big hidden premise when you say “it’s associated with an ideology that itself leads to a lot of people getting hurt.” As others have pointed out, the difficulty is that there are two potential parties to the transaction, one of whom is going to get hurt, and we’re trying to weigh their competing interests.

  166. 166 166 RichardR

    Steve – I think you miss the point about what is wrong in Akin’s views, he said, “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.” No-where does he mention the woman. He should say something like, “The right to life is paramount and therefore the women has to keep the baby despite not wanting to”. But he doesn’t say this, he completely ignores the woman.

    Also I don’t think you can brush aside the term “legitimate rape” because he was speaking off-the-cuff. He is allowed to pause to think and to correct himself as he talks – but he didn’t do so. Try saying “legitimate paedophile” when looking at your daughter and you will realise how disgusting such a term is. The term legitimate rape is similarly disgusting. It is right that people criticise him for uttering the words.

  167. 167 167 Steve Landsburg

    RichardR:

    Try saying “legitimate paedophile” when looking at your daughter and you will realise how disgusting such a term is.

    My daughter has a degree in economics. I can easily imagine her choosing to write a research paper on, say, whether poverty causes paedophilia. And I can easily imagine her gathering data on people who were convicted of paedophilia, and I can easily imagine discussing how her econometric estimates are likely to be affected by the fact that not all of those convicted paedophiles are “legitimate” in the sense of having actually committed acts of paedophilia (as opposed to being falsely convicted). I might reflect after the fact that “legitimate” is not the perfect adjective here, but I don’t think it would bother me (or her) very much, because we’d both know what I meant, and we’d both know it was an important thing to worry about. And I think the most plausible reading of Akin’s comment was that he was using the word “legitimate” in exactly that way.

  168. 168 168 Ken Arromdee

    re 163, Stipulating for him some standard of research he must demonstrate IS criticizing his temerity.

    In that case, I would maintain that it is right and proper to criticize his temerity in expressing his views, with the caveat that “temerity” may not necessarily mean what people think it means.

    You have missed my point. The bicycle was just the way the effect was discovered.

    I don’t see any references to bicycles here.

    In reference to what I was actually responding to, I’ll try to make this a little clearer. The direct claim–the one supported by evidence–in your hypothetical is that women in car crashes get pregnant less. The idea that this is caused by trauma in a way that can generalize to rape victims is not directly supported by evidence; it is speculation. The direct claim would not require extraordinary evidence, but the speculation would. It would be irresponsible for a politician to use this speculation to make policy on abortion (or to convince other people of policy on abortion).

    And that’s still more than Todd Akin had. He didn’t see a legitimate study about trauma and pregnancy that just didn’t specifically list rape as one of the causes of the trauma. He didn’t have *anything*.

    You also seem to reveal a big hidden premise when you say “it’s associated with an ideology that itself leads to a lot of people getting hurt.”

    The ideology associated with similar claims leads to people getting hurt in ways that do not depend on whether fetuses are people.

  169. 169 169 Ken B

    @Ken Aarromdee:
    Really? let me quote my posited mechanism.
    “… as a protective mechanism the female body after a trauma undergoes changes that affect the uterine wall and make implantation less likely.”
    That is precisely the sort of mechanism Akin says he ‘heard about’ from ‘doctors’.

    Calling it speculation is kinda odd, since it’s a *hypothetical* but I guess there are non-speculative hypotheticals I’m unaware of.

    And to repeat for the Nth time, is not the basis of his reasoning or his vote.

  170. 170 170 iceman

    @Ken A #168: Can’t respond to that other than to say most people don’t adopt an ideology for the purpose of hurting other people, so you’re still just blanket asserting they’re wrong — this time without even references to specific claims, let alone evidence.

  171. 171 171 Joe B

    I’m not voting for either of these clowns, though I can as a St. Louis resident. But no matter if you think he’s is just mistaken, is a vile slug, or a hero fighting for the rights of the unborn, I think most people will agree: Anybody running for office who actually SAYS something like that has zero chance of getting elected in the near future.

  172. 172 172 Ken Arromdee

    Calling it speculation is kinda odd, since it’s a *hypothetical* but I guess there are non-speculative hypotheticals I’m unaware of.

    Fine, it’s a hypothetical. The same applies. This is a bad thing for someone to use as a basis for policy, to use to convince other people about policy, or to announce as part of a nationwide political campaign.

    And to repeat for the Nth time, is not the basis of his reasoning or his vote.

    Regardless of whether he personally used it, he was offering it to his audience as an alternative reason to accept his position in case they don’t agree with his main reason.

    And while it may not technically have been the basis of his reasoning, believing it is convenient for his reasoning.

    @iceman:

    Can’t respond to that other than to say most people don’t adopt an ideology for the purpose of hurting other people, so you’re still just blanket asserting they’re wrong

    If a claim is false and used by an ideology that hurts a lot of people, we need to scrutinize similar claims very carefully. This doesn’t mean that the ideology was adopted for the purpose of hurting people; this is about its practical effects, not about intentions.

  173. 173 173 Steve Landsburg

    I would just like to jump in here and thank the two Kens, Ken B and Ken Arromdee, for numerous points well made and well expressed.

  174. 174 174 Ken B

    Re 173: Danke sehr. And I think I see that as a polite request to cease and desist too!

  175. 175 175 Steve Landsburg

    Ken B:

    And I think I see that as a polite request to cease and desist too!

    It was absolutely no such thing! Please do carry on as long as you’d like. This is good stuff.

  176. 176 176 iceman

    In that case…Ken A to me you’re talking in circles / presuming your conclusion. You brought up “context” (vs. ad hominem), but again it seems your context here is simply a premise / belief / view that a particular claim is false. From there you jump to rendering an (entire?) ideology (presumably consisting of many non-specified claims) as having the effect of hurting people. Just when we were starting to have an interesting discussion about the science behind the claim in question.

  177. 177 177 Ken B

    Re 176 in view of 175
    @Ken Arromdee:
    Yeah, like iceman it seems to me you are applying a double standard, but claiming it’s justified. But Akin just made a bit of obiter dicta, in a way that made clear he is not vouching for it strongly nor relying on its accuracy. Fun for a little political gotcha, and I am not above a little gotcha now and then, but you want to make more of it than that.

    You make in particular a great deal of his claim being made to persuade people. Well that’s true of most comments about issues, and I think Steve nailed that in his points 3 and 4. Plus *this was a response to a rather hostile questionner*. Akin didn’t fly a teleprompter to the Brandenburg gate (to play a little gotcha myself) to announce to the world that doctors told him something. he didn’t make a speech on the topic. It was an utterance more revealing of his own thought (and wishes) and proferred diffidently than a proclamation that this was the moment the seas began to recede. It was I think confirmation bias at work, not evidence of mens rea.

    As my hypothetical about car accidents shows, had someone presented *exactly the same idea* in a context unrelated to politics, abortion, being a fundie, or being a republican, no-one would be screaming about what an outrageous ill informed butt ignorant medieval idea it was. Which I think shows why those charges (which I consider for reasons given supra to be ill informed butt ignorant and medieval in their application of moral wishing to empirical science) are purely politically motivated.

  178. 178 178 Ken B

    I apologize in advance, and acknowledge that he who would pun would pick a pocket but I cannot resist.

    Steven E. Landsburg: “Fuck you.”

    Would you agree Steve that that guy was a legitimate bastard.

  179. 179 179 Ken Arromdee

    You brought up “context” (vs. ad hominem), but again it seems your context here is simply a premise / belief / view that a particular claim is false.

    Steven already agreed that the claim is false (though he thought that making the mistake is understandable) so I was working from that.

    However, the context is that similar claims are false and have been abused, not that the claim itself is false.

    @KenB:

    As my hypothetical about car accidents shows, had someone presented *exactly the same idea* in a context unrelated to politics… no-one would be screaming

    I am saying that someone making such a claim needs to be careful about doing the research. Making the claim in the context of a study about car accidents inherently involves doing research so is less objectionable (although the connection to rape is still speculation, so it is still objectionable to some degree).

  180. 180 180 Ken Arromdee

    But Akin just made a bit of obiter dicta, in a way that made clear he is not vouching for it strongly nor relying on its accuracy.

    If it wasn’t a reason for his position, and wasn’t meant to convince other people of his position, then why did he bother saying it?

  181. 181 181 Ken B

    Oh come on Ken. Never did I (or Landsburg for that matter) say Akin didn’t proffer the idea as bolstering his position. And in exactly the way you identified: as a way of suggesting the damage his policies would cause — which I think he admits btw — is smaller than it might at first seem. But your contention is, if I follow your recent posts, that even minor or tangential points proffered diffidently and tentatively are signs of turpitude — if done by someone with certain associations. You are applying and justifying a double standard because you just don’t like Akin and his ilk.

  182. 182 182 Ken B

    “Steven already agreed that the claim is false”

    Well he said he thought, based on what people have told him, the claim is false. Which is of course the same sort of thing Akin said, and the same sort of thing nearly everyone on this board said. Even the (I think) 3 of us who mentioned sources on the science are not scientists, but are relying on what we read.

    But in any case the issue isn’t whether the claim is false. You claim much more than that: that it is so transparently and flagrantly false that even allowing confirmation bias to persuade you it could well be true is unjustifiable. That’s a much stronger claim!

  183. 183 183 Ken Arromdee

    But your contention is, if I follow your recent posts, that even minor or tangential points proffered diffidently and tentatively are signs of turpitude — if done by someone with certain associations

    You are confusing people and ideas. The *ideas* have certain associations which mean that anyone who uses one ought to be careful about their research.

  184. 184 184 iceman

    “the context is that similar claims are false and have been abused, not that the claim itself is false”

    Sounds ironically like why Akin’s ilk struggle with granting a rape exception.

    Perhaps we can agree that these notions of “context” and “associations” are abused as well when they divert us from a better understanding of particular cases. And sorry but when the alleged linkages are sufficiently vague this still sounds fairly ad hominem to me – at least in its *effect*. E.g. I suspect that even if Akin could provide a firmer basis for his comments ex post, his advisors would tell him it’s best not to touch it again because of “context”. Someone here also had a nice quote about how we’re all poorer for bad ideas not exposed due to stifled discussion.
    .
    “You are confusing people and ideas. The *ideas* have certain associations which mean that anyone who uses one ought to be careful”

    But it seems to me the associations come into play as ideas are expressed by particular people (and largely reflect the perceptions / baggage of the listener). Wasn’t that the point of the car example? Again I agree (as a matter of context) that by virtue of his office Akin is obliged to be better informed and/or express himself more clearly (nobody has much reason to care if I say it because I have no influence or expertise). Alternatively, Ken B suggests that in practice we’re likely to interpret more charitably “anyone” we happen to agree with for other purposes; your vague references to ideologies that hurt people reinforce this interpretation here.

  185. 185 185 iceman

    Last take on a so-called double standard here — the answers to questions like whether traumatic events impact fertility seem potentially important *either way*. For example (sticking with the car hypo because it seems a bit more dispassionate), if there is a linkage this could provide further motivation to develop enhanced “smart car” safety features that help detect and avoid dangerous situations. This process is inhibited by the suggestion that anyone who entertains notions on one side of a sensitive issue faces a special burden of care. It seems obvious to me that ideas don’t have associations on their own, people create them, and usually not very objectively or monolithically.

    Have a great holiday weekend all. Not sure what’s happening over there on today’s post but it’s getting a little goofy.

  186. 186 186 Ken Arromdee

    Last take on a so-called double standard here — the answers to questions like whether traumatic events impact fertility seem potentially important *either way*.

    Only one side of the question (or ideas similar to it) has been historically used to hurt women, and only one side of the question is associated with anti-woman religious views.

    It would be like claiming that “Jewish bankers are taking over the world” and “Jewish bankers are not taking over the world” need similar levels of certainty. Certainly, being wrong in both directions could have bad implications. Suppose that you claim that Jewish bankers aren’t taking over the world and you’re wrong. If people believe your wrong statements and act on them, the world could be in serious trouble that could affect the entire financial system.

    In other words, I’m not saying that you need to take special care based on the consequences of being wrong. It is limited to a strict subset of such consequences. Unproven accusations that Jews are taking over the world have in the past been used to hurt people; unproven claims that Jews aren’t, have not. Both claims would have big consequences if they are wrong, but it’s not just any old big consequence that counts.

  187. 187 187 Ken Arromdee

    And to apply that to the car example, there is no history of badly researched statements about car seats being used to hurt people, and there’s no harmful religious movement that would be encouraged by poorly researched statements about car seats.

    It would take a very contrived example to apply it to cars. Imagine that there was a car-safety movement similar to the anti-vaccination movement. Imagine further that believe that seatbelts, airbags and other traditional car safety features are a bad idea, and that there is a conspiracy to cover this information up. Rather, they think that putting a spike on the steering wheel is a good safety feature because it encourages the driver to drive more carefully. Further, imagine that this group is powerful enough that they have lobbied for laws that exempt drivers from seatbelt laws if they put a spike on their steering wheel. And last year, 5000 extra drivers died from being impaled on the spike on their steering wheel.

    Your studies show that car crashes don’t reduce fertility, but the way the studies worked out, the results are suspiciously close to the same things that the steering wheel spike people have said about seatbelts and spikes and which have gotten lots of people killed in the past.

    Under those bizarrely contrived circumstances, yes, taking the “no effect on pregnancy” side has to be done with as much care as taking the “effect on pregnancy” side.

  188. 188 188 iceman

    We can certainly imagine situations where we wouldn’t assume a “charitable” interpretation. A charge that ‘Jewish bankers are taking over the world’ should probably be met with an instinctive sneer, precisely because it seems so easily verifiable (count the bankers) that we might rightly question the ‘real’ motivation behind idle speculation or unsupported accusations on the matter. (It could even be viewed as a diversionary tactic itself.) My impression of the topic at hand was that it’s reasonable to require sufficient specificity from those crying foul (even if we’re just discussing it as a topic for new / further research?) to prevent “context” from morphing into ad hominem. E.g. what are the “similar ideas” that are “anti-woman” — but not, as you’ve also maintained, in ways that “depend on whether fetuses are people”? (Otherwise clearly there are many pro-life women as well.) Lacking that, we’re left to wonder…is it that we should be more skeptical of the possibility that traumatic events impact fertility than not because people in Salem MA once burned witches?

    I think we both share an underlying concern that politics is characterized by rational ignorance. But isn’t it better as a rule to try to expose the fools and dissemblers through open dialogue?

  189. 189 189 Ken Arromdee

    A charge that ‘Jewish bankers are taking over the world’ should probably be met with an instinctive sneer, precisely because it seems so easily verifiable (count the bankers) that we might rightly question the ‘real’ motivation behind idle speculation or unsupported accusations on the matter.

    It’s not as easily verifiable as you think. The charge isn’t about number of bankers; it’s about influence, which is harder to measure.

    But it is pretty comparable to Todd Akin’s situation–and I think you are coming close to figuring out what’s wrong with that. Yes, it’s verifiable enough that we might question the “real” motivation behind idle speculation. Todd’s statement was also verifiable enough (or more precisely, the lack of evidence for it was verifiable enough) that he could have an unspoken motivation as well (either that, or he’s been paying too much attention to someone with such a motivation.)

    There are also other reasons. Someone might believe that Jewish bankers are conspiring against us, not because of any direct motivation, but because he also proposes policies that would hurt Jews, and believing that Jews are evil eases his conscience when thinking about the possible effects of those policies. That may very well be what’s in play with Todd Akin. If he thinks rape isn’t as damaging as others think it is, he has to worry less about the impact of his policies on rape victims.

  190. 190 190 Steve

    For a guy who regularly bashes people for their ignorance about basic economics, you seem to think ignornace about basic biology is pretty acceptable.

    Believing that fairy tale about “shutting down” is about as bad as refusing to believe in evolution and, as you once wrote, “believing in . . . creationism requires an extraordinary level of willful ignorance.”

  191. 191 191 iceman

    Ken A #189 – Well *lack of* evidence is a different matter – in that case it seems all we have is speculation. In that respect, again if your point on “context” was that given his particular position Akin should be more judicious with his comments, I’d agree. But it seems pretty clear by “context” you mean your “other reasons”, which still seem to sidestep the issue of whether there is a second party who might be harmed.

  1. 1 In the Matter of Todd Akin at Steven Landsburg | The Big Questions … | ChildBirth 101
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