This week Kris and I have with us special guest Michael Nugent (http://www NULL.michaelnugent NULL.com/), chairperson of Atheist Ireland (http://atheist NULL.ie/). Michael joins us to talk about Ireland’s free speech-violating blasphemy law (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_the_Republic_of_Ireland), the upcoming referendum on said law (http://www NULL.theguardian NULL.com/world/2014/sep/30/ireland-referendum-blasphemy-law) and non-belief in his native country. This interview was done in conjunction with Atheist Alliance International’s Secular World Podcast. Enjoy!
Later on in the podcast, Jesse Jackson claims racism is responsible for the death of the America’s first ebola patient (http://www NULL.washingtontimes NULL.com/news/2014/oct/9/jesse-jackson-dallas-lawmaker-blame-racism-for-ebo/); outrage over 12-year old being married off in Norway (http://www NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/world/the-truth-about-thea-norway-s-12-year-old-child-bride-1 NULL.2046750); Surrey, BC Pastarfarian runs for city council (http://www NULL.vancitybuzz NULL.com/2014/10/icbc-pastafarian-running-surrey-city-council/); the Supreme Court of Canada hears arguments for and against legalizing assisted suicide (http://news NULL.nationalpost NULL.com/2014/10/10/supreme-court-gathers-next-week-to-hear-arguments-for-and-against-doctor-assisted-death/); and the town of Cardston, AB votes to maintain its dry status (http://www NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/canada/cardston-alta-will-stay-dry-after-alcohol-ban-vote-1 NULL.2042626) and we speculate on whether it has a bowling alley and a “Beer Baron”. But first, the population of Canada is about to increase by one later this month as Malala Yousafzai will be made an honorary citizen (http://www NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/politics/nobel-winner-malala-yousafzai-to-get-honorary-canadian-citizenship-this-month-1 NULL.2048705) of this country.
Later on in this podcast, more blurry video evidence expected to be taken as a slam-dunk for the existence ghosts at a police station (http://m NULL.huffpost NULL.com/us/entry/5884520) in New Mexico; apparently, there are two types of exorcism, regular and irregular, and the Vatican wants to maintain its brand and expect the rest of us to believe The Exorcist to be a documentary; continuing on with Catholic nonsense, the Calgary Catholic School Board has given parents a letter (http://news NULL.nationalpost NULL.com/2014/09/21/debate-over-hpv-vaccine-flares-up-in-alberta-after-catholic-leaders-warn-shots-encourage-pre-marital-sex/) from Church authorities on the evils of the HPV vaccine (here we go again!); in more Catholic news, lest people get the idea that we bash everything Catholic, the papal nuncio to the DR recalled last year for (surprise!) acts of pedophilia has been arrested (http://www NULL.addictinginfo NULL.org/2014/09/24/archbishop-arrested/) and will go on trial, and a bishop in Paraguay has been removed from his post (http://mobile NULL.reuters NULL.com/article/idUSKCN0HK1E820140925?irpc=932) for concealing pedophilia by a priest in his diocese. Good news, indeed, but could still have done better. I wish the Vatican would stop pretending to statehood. Lastly, we have Da Prez makes an announcement about the podcast that we think is pretty cool. But first, uppity Orthodox Jews (http://www NULL.telegraph NULL.co NULL.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11121519/Ultra-Orthodox-Jews-cause-chaos-on-flight-to-Israel NULL.html) expect everybody else not only to respect their beliefs, but accommodate themselves to them. That’s gonna happen.
The Legion of Reason podcast strives to promote the values of skepticism, secularism, atheism, and humanism. Recently it has come to my attention that one of our co-hosts, HJ Hornbeck, has been publicly advancing an argument based on what we feel is a fallacious application of the Bayesian inferential method to alleged sexual assault cases1. The purpose of this disclaimer is to explain why I and my co-hosts unanimously and adamantly reject this argument.
HJ argues that because claims of sexual assault that turn out to be false are relatively infrequent (<10% of reported cases) this should considered as evidence for the truth of any single particular claim of sexual assault, and further, that this should be included as evidence in a court of law.
Illustrative of the error in reasoning evident within this argument is one of the central premises upon which it rests, which can be stated as follows:
P1. X percentage of men commit sexual assault.
P2. M is a man.
C. Therefore the likelihood that M committed sexual assault is X percent.
The ecological fallacy is an error in reasoning defined as “the interpretation of statistical data where inferences about the nature of individuals are deduced from inference for the group to which those individuals belong.”2 This is particularly true if one treats the statistics as if they were gathered under controlled conditions, as is the case here (especially in the fallacious syllogism above). This is nothing more than taking a side based on statistics alone, and not on evidence directly related to the claim. That’s not skepticism.
In not accepting the claim as true on the basis of statistics alone as Haysn suggests, we are not therefor accepting the opposite claim (no assault took place). This would be a false dichotomy and we categorically reject such criticism. To call a claimant a liar or deluded is just as prejudiced as assuming the claim is true on the basis of no more than social statistics.
This argument is prejudicial, poisoning the well even before we get to the examination any evidence directly related to the particular claim in question. Comparing the statistical likelihood used in DNA evidence collected from a victim of sexual assault is not the same thing as using social statistics on sexual assault claims. One pertains to the claim at hand, the other does not. The farthest one can take the statistics on sexual assault claims is that because false claims are uncommon we should take every claim seriously, and we do believe any and all such claims should be taken very seriously. But to go further than this and use these same statistics as evidence to form an opinion on the truth of the specific claim is an abuse of science.
Even more egregious is the claim that no one is ever harmed by a false claim of sexual assault. I’ll put this in all-caps so we are not misunderstood: NO ONE FALSELY ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NOT HARMED BY THE FRAUDULENT CLAIM. The false nature of the claim is in itself harm, and aside from the possibility of false imprisonment, the standing of the accused in their career, family and community can be hugely affected, even after the false nature of the claim is discovered.
Each of us would be the first to admit that it is difficult to establish cases of sexual assault. But to tilt the playing field in such a manner is unconscionable. It is this very difficulty in validating such claims that the number of false claims remains low. There is little doubt that would change under the circumstances where the defendant must actually prove their innocence before even getting to a courtroom. It completely destroys the presumption of innocence, a concept of paramount importance in our legal system, and one of the foundations of our democracy. In short, the argument is not only anti-skeptical, it also undermines the core beliefs of humanism and secularism.
1http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/09/guest-post-a-statistical-analysis-of-a-sexual-assault-case/ (http://freethoughtblogs NULL.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/09/guest-post-a-statistical-analysis-of-a-sexual-assault-case/)
2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_fallacy (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Ecological_fallacy)
Later, Kris, Twyla and I, the Very Reverend Dr. Randy Tyson, discuss happenings a-transpirin’ in Pennsylvania, where a teen is facing two years (http://news NULL.kron4 NULL.com/news/teen-could-get-two-years-for-facebook-photos-with-jesus-statue/) in juvie hall for a Facebook photo of himself saying ‘hello’ to Jesus in a special way; another mockumentary is coming out, this time it’s Nick Cage in a remake of that classic comedy Left Behind (http://www NULL.leftbehindmovie NULL.com/) trying to scare us in to conversion with fictional threats of the rapture; a US cardinal warns (http://www NULL.rightwingwatch NULL.org/content/cardinal-francis-george-says-american-catholics-are-being-forced-live-under-pro-gay-sharia-l) that America is under pro-gay Sharia law (say that without doing a spit-take). But first, local Imam Syed Soharwardy was threatened (http://calgary NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/calgary-imam-attacked-1 NULL.2005185) in very red-neck fashion and I reveal a recent exchange I’ve had with him.
I know it may seem like we haven’t done an episode in a while, and skipped episode numbers, but we’ve been recording them and I’m going to get rid of the backlog in reverse order. Summer is over in Calgary, and in a very sudden manner. Yesterday the outside temperature was in the mid twenties (high seventies for our metric friends), and today it snowed in parts of the city. And people wonder why I plan on moving to Hawaii. In this episode, an important voice in the atheism movement fell silent recently. Physicist, philosopher and author Victor Stenger passed away on August 25 (http://www NULL.sltrib NULL.com/sltrib/lifestyle/58369338-80/stenger-religion-science-atheism NULL.html NULL.csp) and we acknowledge some of his contributions. I attended Calgary’s Gay Pride Parade and give my impressions of the event. Later, we let out some frustrations over shopping carts and traffic, and a “fake” medium in Quebec City has been charged with pretending to sorcery (http://cnews NULL.canoe NULL.ca/CNEWS/Crime/2014/08/27/21901536 NULL.html). Seriously. That’s a law here. And finally, Kris challenges Twyla, Haysn and me to take the ice-bucket challenge. But first, a major shake-up in a leading skepticism organization (http://www NULL.randi NULL.org/site/index NULL.php/jref-news/2392-los-angeles-office-closed NULL.html).
In this instalment, recorded August 3, 2014, we take a look at the new Atheist TV (http://www NULL.atheists NULL.org/AtheistTV) presented by American Atheists; an Alberta Liberal MLA is making positive waves about ending government support of sectarian and elitist schools (http://www NULL.calgaryherald NULL.com/news/Hehr+Private+schools+divide+pupils+wealth+religion/10063441/story NULL.html) in the province; more conundrums in medical ethics, this time a Calgary fertility clinic that has issues with women wanting “rainbow children” (http://www NULL.calgaryherald NULL.com/health/rainbow+families+Ethnic+donor+stipulation+fertility+centre+floors+local+woman/10063343/story NULL.html); the Texas medical board is yet again trying to get rid of Stanislaw Burzynski (http://www NULL.usatoday NULL.com/story/news/nation/2014/07/24/new-charges-for-burzynski/13111483/) and his unsubstantiated treatments; Richard Dawkins steps in it yet again (http://www NULL.cbc NULL.ca/newsblogs/yourcommunity/2014/07/richard-dawkinss-rape-pedophelia-logic-tweets-ignite-twitter-storm NULL.html), this time on Twitter; and finally, Canada’s ambassador to the Vatican compares abortion to the horrific events that occurred on 9/11 (http://www NULL.theglobeandmail NULL.com/news/politics/harper-appoints-dennis-savoie-as-next-ambassador-to-holy-see/article19889661/). But first, congratulations are in order for one of our very own cohosts…
While not necessarily a bad thing, choosing the anti-choice Christian group the Edmonton Pregnancy Care Centre wasn’t exactly a stellar decision. Eighteen-year-old Emily Dawson and her mother Kathy have filed a human rights complaint (http://www NULL.cbc NULL.ca/news/canada/edmonton/edmonton-school-board-drops-abstinence-based-sex-ed-after-complaint-1 NULL.2704291) as a result. But in true Canadian fashion, the school board has temporarily suspended it’s reliance on this clearly inappropriate group rather quickly. But we wonder why this group was chosen by a PUBLIC school board in the first place? Imitating some of the lunacy south of the 49th parallel, Kelowna mayoral candidate Kelly Row wants to run on the Jeebuz ticket (http://www NULL.castanet NULL.net/news/Kelowna/119082/Mayoralty-bid-God-s-calling). Kelownans, both east and west varieties, let’s create a new parable and teach him the error of his ways when it comes time to vote. Pope Frank makes our podcast yet again in his recurring role of religious immoralist. Frank claims that 2% of priests are of the pedophelia bent (http://www NULL.abc NULL.net NULL.au/news/2014-07-13/pope-promises-solutions-to-priestly-celibacy-report-says/5593408), but other members of his organization dispute that number and think he has vastly low-balled it (http://www NULL.abc NULL.net NULL.au/news/2014-07-14/church-body-says-4pc-of-clergy-have-been-paedophiles/5596540). Kris gives us a report of her experiences at The Amaz!ng Meeting in Las Vegas and the panel she was a part of there. Gordon Klingenschmitt thinks atheists need to be exorcised if they feel uncomfortable in a church. And finally, Ken Ham sees no point in looking for extraterrestrial life (http://www NULL.salon NULL.com/2014/07/21/ken_ham_wants_to_end_the_u_s_space_program_because_aliens_can%E2%80%99t_have_salvation/) because, well, “he has a book.” But first, I want to remind people that the deadline for having your say to the College of Physician and Surgeons of Ontario (http://policyconsult NULL.cpso NULL.on NULL.ca/?page_id=3403) on the ethics of physicians refusals to provide or even discuss legal and often necessary therapeutic choices with their patients is rapidly approaching, and I urge everyone to provide why they feel this is (or isn’t, as the case may be) an ethical provision of their guidelines on conduct. I’ve given them my 2 cents’ worth and I urge our listeners to chime in themselves.
We continue with further developments following the story of Chantal Barry (http://news NULL.nationalpost NULL.com/2014/06/26/doctor-on-duty-will-not-prescribe-the-birth-control-pill-reads-sign-at-calgary-walk-in-clinic/), a Calgary walk-in clinic physician who refuses to prescribe birth control. Later, before we discuss This Week in the Vatican (http://www NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/world/vatican-formally-recognizes-international-group-of-exorcists-1 NULL.1897357), we find out that Bishop Fred “You-know-who” Henry predictably weighs in (http://www NULL.calgaryherald NULL.com/life/Pill+health+care/9995705/story NULL.html) on the kerfuffle and continues his amazing streak of getting it all wrong… Very wrong. CBC Radio One’s weekly program The Sixth Day (http://www NULL.cbc NULL.ca/day6/podcasts/) discussed the situation in a more general sense with guests Arthur Schafer and Margaret Somerville, two medical ethicists with greatly differing opinions on the matter. Indeed, I scoff at the description of Somerville as a “medical ethicist”. I think it more accurate to describe her as “Catholic apologist”. She certainly makes no more sense than Henry. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is revisiting the ethical guidelines regarding conscience rights and looking for public input. You have until August 5th to fill out their survey (http://policyconsult NULL.cpso NULL.on NULL.ca/?page_id=3403), and I urge everyone who cares about this to do so. I think President Obama said it best, paraphrasing what we’ve been saying all along: “No, you can’t deny women their basic rights and pretend it’s about your ‘religious freedom’. If you don’t like birth control, don’t use it. Religious freedom doesn’t mean you can force others to live by your own beliefs.” While he was talking about the Hobby Lobby case, this sentiment applies just as much to Chantal Barry and her unprofessional ilk. But first, I get a response from the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons to an email I sent in requesting answers to a number of questions I had regarding this situation.
I’ve been a very bad podcast host not getting an episode out for a while. Excuses include “It’s summer”, “I’m starting in a new position” and “I’m just plain lazy.” The latter is likely the closest to the truth. Well, anyway, we’re back, and I had to get this episode out because the next when is the follow-up to some of the discussion in this one. When we first started recording only Kris was available (Haysn joined us later), and I really like having at least a third. So I desperately searched the intertubes and found one Darrel Ray (http://recoveringfromreligion NULL.org/board-of-directors/). We met Darrel in Kamloops and had a great time with him at the after-conference get-togethers. Darrel is a psychologist and the author of two books, The God Virus: How Religion Affects Our Lives and Culture (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/The-God-Virus-religion-infects/dp/0970950519/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1371851386&sr=8-1&keywords=God+Virus) and Sex and Secularism: What Happens When You Leave Religion? (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/Sex-God-Religion-Distorts-Sexuality/dp/0970950543/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1371851448&sr=8-1&keywords=sex+and+god+how+religion+distorts+sexuality), and an excellent choice for the topic du jour.
When Joan Chand’oiseau went to a Calgary walk-in medical clinic she was gob-smacked to see a prominently-posted sign that said, highlighted in bright yellow, that Chantal Barry, the physician on duty, “WILL NOT prescribe the birth control pill.” (http://www NULL.calgaryherald NULL.com/health/Calgary+doctor+refuses+prescribe+birth+control+over+moral+beliefs/9978442/story NULL.html) Appalled at this, Chand’oiseau posted a picture of the sign on her Facebook page and it quickly went viral around Calgary. Considering that one in five Calgarians are without a family doctor and that prescribing birth control is one of the most common services provided by clinics, this has serious implications. Along with Darrel, Kris, Haysn and I discuss the what is permitted by ethical guidelines and the ethics of this action.
After Darrel left us, we continued on to discuss provincial Progressive Conservative party hopeful Rick McIver and his association with the demonstrably-bigoted March for Jesus group headed by street preacher Artur Pawlowski. The predictable fallout from this (http://www NULL.calgaryherald NULL.com/news/crime/McIver+regrets+March+Jesus+calls+anti+remarks+ugly+nasty+video/9954879/story NULL.html) (well, predictable to everyone other than Rick) caused his leadership significant damage and to disassociate himself from Artur’s group. This led us to finish off with a request from our listeners to provide me with a non-gender slur which is at least as good as the word “dick”.