By now almost everyone in the atheist/skeptic communities has become aware of the recent claims made by PZ Myers against a famous skeptic. I am withholding judgement (belief) in that claim until such time as evidence is produced. Many others in the A/S community are also withholding judgement.
I saw a claim of rape in my twitter feed, just today and I believe the claim.
“What’s that?”, I predict the social justice warriors will say. “How can you believe that claim but not the other? Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?” Actually no, and I will explain.
First there is the source of the claim. In one case the source is 3rd hand, in the other the source is first hand. Why does that make a difference you ask? It matters for the same reason we as a society generally don’t allow hearsay testimony in court. People lie. People have motivations which are unknown to me. It’s a lot easier for me to assess the motivations of just one person (the claimant) than it is to assess the motivations and truthfulness of 3 different people. The source is not the only factor, however, as we shall see.
The second factor in my believing one claim but withholding belief in the other is impact. In one case (twitter) the importance of the claim to the wider community is trivial (no offense Deirdre). There won;t be any law suits or rage blogs about it. The fact is that if true, Deirdre’s claim will make virtually no impact on the greater community. The same cannot be said for PZ’s 3rd hand claim. An analogy if you will indulge me:
Let’s say that I come to work late and claim that I crashed my car on the way in. That claim if true has some small consequences and will likely be believed without further evidence. If, however I claim I crashed my car into a gasoline tanker truck on the interstate, folks are going to want to verify my story. It would have a greater impact on our town (community) if true.
The third reason I believe the tweeted claim is that it has details. In subsequent tweets more details are given. Details like the date, the method of coercion (or of bypassing consent) and the recovery from the event make it more credible. Contrast the tweet with the now famous post by PZ Myers in which only the most vague claim of “coerced into a position where I could not consent” is given. The extreme lack of detail is conducive only to making me ask questions, not to instant belief.
My final reason (that I will espouse on here) is motivation. The motivation of the anonymous claimant in PZ’s post cannot be fully examined *due* to her anonymity. Deirdre’s motivations can be examined from the context of the tweet stream. While there may exist a small chance that her motivation was merely to “win” the twitter conversation, at least I can examine that possibility in her case. I have no way of knowing if the anonymous accuser in the PZ post has an ulterior motive. It’s not like rape claims against famous people could possibly have another motivation, right Kobe?
I would like to thank Deirdre Crosse for allowing me to use her tweets in the posting of this essay.