Ah the self-righteousness of people who have a death grip on the truth

May 30 2017 Published by under becoming an adult, Uncategorized, women

We have all read the stories about sexual predators in academia. Just those words "sexual predators" says it all. I do not dispute those. I do not even want to argue about the wisdom of getting drunk. Period. The wisdom of getting drunk, by anyone, in any situation that has remotely professional overtones is a very different kettle of fish. Nor am I remotely interested in defending or excusing these (largely) men, though I know of a distinctive case, years ago, in which a woman was the predator. There may or may not be cases of people wrongly accused, but those need to be considered on a case by case basis. We need to guard against both type I and type II errors, and recognize that controlling for one may impact on the other.

What interests me is that in one case one of the accusers is not a young person who experienced abuse but another, older, male professor not directly involved in the problem. This other professor went to great lengths to obtain evidence against the first prof, and has now written a number of editorials about how wrong the abuser was. This is a situation where someone, outside the course of events, someone not at all involved or in the line of authority for the particular abuses or alleged abuses, decides to take up finding evidence and prosecuting another, all in the name of "truth". The prosecution by Mr. A has been public, in the press, and certainly outside of anything resembling due process. It is relevant that one of the several cases did get due process, and the abuser was formally censured as guilty, though never admitting so. That particular case, as far as I can tell, had little to do with Mr. Accuser, but was considered on the merits of the individuals involved.

I laugh at this, but ironically, because I actually knew Mr. Accuser. Quite simply, he was a notorious bully in years gone by. It may not have been sexual, but he was aggressive and whether intentional or not, he did things to ruin other careers. I am sure he would argue that his actions and words were on principle, and it was the science he was attacking, not the person. But, that's not quite how the people on the receiving end saw it at the time.

Has Mr. A. done some good, any good? Possibly. Are the things he has found true? My instinct is to believe the young, or now not so young, women who have come forward. People are lauding him for "uncovering the truth". Yet, I cannot read his statements and op-eds without thinking of what I know. Mr. A is a bully. He may be cloaked in self-righteousness here, but he has done exactly this to others. All in the name of science.

Has he changed? I certainly admit the possibility that he has grown, and that he is trying to expiate his sins. But, is there any remorse in what he says, any acknowledgement of what he might have done? None that I can find in his writing. To me, it reads like Mr. A. has jumped on a bandwagon, seeing, if not glory, at least a lot of attention, his name in print, and glorified given the current political winds. In this case, he may have done some good. But what if he applied this to someone who is innocent?

To ask why someone does something is fraught with problems. We often don't know why we ourselves do something. Still, I am filled with sardonic? even caustic? mirth at watching Mr. A dance. I hope that deep down, somewhere, he knows why he has done what he has.





4 responses so far

  • becca says:

    Hypothetically, if you realized that deep down you are a horrible mean petty bully at heart, and you wanted to do the least possible damage with that, would picking on sexual harassers be the worst choice? Asking for a friend.

  • potnia theron says:

    Hypothetically, of course, I'd recommend psychotherapy. Or a career in politics.

  • Jaws says:

    It seems to me that the key distinction is whether it's just investigation by the bully, presenting information found to nonbullies for decisionmaking...

    ...or, as is more common — more common in academia and government, unfortunately — the decisionmakers are closeted/wannabe bullies themselves, equally happy to take up the role of being bullies without the responsibility of throwing the first/a public punch.

    While I was (an older, second-career) law student, I witnessed this variant regarding a faculty member (who was several years younger than me). Said faculty member was pilloried by a notoriously bullying ideological opponent (who, rumor has it, had opposed the initial appointment) for purported sexually predatory conduct; the "committee" that "evaluated" the situation was led by a different, pleasant-outside-class/Kingsfieldesque-bully-in-class ideological opponent. Nobody knew whom to believe (especially since the alleged victim, for whatever reason, refused to cooperate), but the accused was nonetheless hounded off the faculty. As a "mere" graduate assistant to the then-Assistant Dean, I was closer to the process than most students, but make no claim to "know" anything, and have tried to make no judgment at all regarding the matter. Meanwhile, across campus in the biology department, the same damned thing (with frighteningly parallel personalities) happened the next year, and again in a health-sciences program a couple of years after I graduated. (This is a LARGE university, and the law of large numbers seems to indicate that this level of prevalence is disturbingly about average.)

  • MK says:

    "Mr. A is a bully. He may be cloaked in self-righteousness here, but he has done exactly this to others. All in the name of science."

    My impression is that usually it is those who refuse to acknowledge their scientific mistakes who are bullies and it is them who often try to sack their critics.
    This is a common scenario that happened to even a tenured guy (and for a student or postdoc this would be a complete disaster):

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