Believe Some Persons

Democrats don’t really “believe all women”, at least insofar as the women in question are claiming that they have been sexually assaulted by Democrat politicians. First, there was Bill Clinton. Now, there is Joe Biden. It follows that women are to be believed only when they accuse Republican office-seekers, or persons nominated to office by Republicans.

The foregoing is obvious and has been noted many times by conservative writers. So I won’t dwell on it here.

What I want to know is why women should be believed automatically in the first place. Is there something about women that causes them to utter the truth unfailingly? Are women in fact less prone to lying than men? The evidence is mixed — if you can call psychological studies “evidence”. And we know what such studies are worth, which is to say not much.

There are some reasons to believe a person unreservedly; for example:

The person isn’t trying to sell you something, where the something might be a used car, a house, or a story that will advance that person’s interest (including revenge against particular person of class of persons).

You have known that person for a very long time and have never known the person to attempt deception, other than to tell a “white lie” to spare another person’s feelings (e.g., you’re not fat) or to get a child to do the right thing (e.g., Santa Claus is watching you).

You are engaged in a business relationship with the person and it is a sure thing that he will suffer financially if he is being less than honest about his side of the deal.

Accusations of sexual assault don’t fit the bill, unless you know have known the accuser for a long time and trust her (or him) because of her (or his) record of veracity. But accusations should be taken seriously and investigated.

As for Christine Blasey Ford: Her story was incredible from the beginning because of its vagueness, lack of corroboration, her known animus toward conservatives, and Brett Kavanaugh’s track record with respect to women.

As for Tara Reade: Her story isn’t incredible because of its specificity, partial corroboration, Read’s long-standing political views (a rather left-wing Democrat), and Joe Biden’s track record with respect to women.

But I am withholding judgement about Reade’s story — unlike most Democrats (who refuse to credit it) and too many Republicans (who are eager to believe it).

Ford, Kavanaugh, and Probability

I must begin by quoting the ever-quotable Theodore Dalrymple. In closing a post in which he addresses (inter alia) the high-tech low-life lynching of Brett Kavanaugh, he writes:

The most significant effect of the whole sorry episode is the advance of the cause of what can be called Femaoism, an amalgam of feminism and Maoism. For some people, there is a lot of pleasure to be had in hatred, especially when it is made the meaning of life.

Kavanaugh’s most “credible” accuser — Christine Blasey Ford (CBF) — was incredible (in the literal meaning of the word) for many reasons, some of which are given in the items listed at the end of “Where I Stand on Kavanaugh“.

Arnold Kling gives what is perhaps the best reason for believing Kavanaugh’s denial of CBF’s accusation, a reason that occurred to me at the time:

[Kavanaugh] came out early and emphatically with his denial. This risked having someone corroborate the accusation, which would have irreparably ruined his career. If he did it, it was much safer to own it than to attempt to get away with lying about it. If he lied, chances are he would be caught–at some point, someone would corroborate her story. The fact that he took that risk, along with the fact that there was no corroboration, even from her friend, suggests to me that he is innocent.

What does any of this have to do with probability? Kling’s post is about the results of a survey conducted by Scott Alexander, the proprietor of Slate Star Codex. Kling opens with this:

Scott Alexander writes,

I asked readers to estimate their probability that Judge Kavanaugh was guilty of sexually assaulting Dr. Ford. I got 2,350 responses (thank you, you are great). Here was the overall distribution of probabilities.

… A classical statistician would have refused to answer this question. In classical statistics, he is either guilty or he is not. A probability statement is nonsense. For a Bayesian, it represents a “degree of belief” or something like that. Everyone who answered the poll … either is a Bayesian or consented to act like one.

As a staunch adherent of the classical position (though I am not a statistician), I agree with Kling.

But the real issue in the recent imbroglio surrounding Kavanaugh wasn’t the “probability” that he had committed or attempted some kind of assault on CBF. The real issue was the ideological direction of the Supreme Court:

  1. With the departure of Anthony Kennedy from the Court, there arose an opportunity to secure a reliably conservative (constitutionalist) majority. (Assuming that Chief Justice Roberts remains in the fold.)
  2. Kavanaugh is seen to be a reliable constitutionalist.
  3. With Kavanaugh in the conservative majority, the average age of that majority would be (and now is) 63; whereas, the average age of the “liberal” minority is 72, and the two oldest justices (at 85 and 80) are “liberals”.
  4. Though the health and fitness of individual justices isn’t well known, there are more opportunities in the coming years for the enlargement of the Court’s conservative wing than for the enlargement of its “liberal” wing.
  5. This is bad news for the left because it dims the prospects for social and economic revolution via judicial decree — a long-favored leftist strategy. In fact, it brightens the prospects for the rollback of some of the left’s legislative and judicial “accomplishments”.

Thus the transparently fraudulent attacks on Brett Kavanaugh by desperate leftists and “tools” like CBF. That is to say, except for those who hold a reasoned position (e.g., Arnold Kling and me), one’s stance on Kavanaugh is driven by one’s politics.

Scott Alexander’s post supports my view:

Here are the results broken down by party (blue is Democrats, red is Republicans):

And here are the results broken down by gender (blue is men, pink is women):

Given that women are disproportionately Democrat, relative to men, the second graph simply tells us the same thing as the first graph: The “probability” of Kavanaugh’s “guilt” is strongly linked to political persuasion. (I am heartened to see that a large chunk of the female population hasn’t succumbed to Femaoism.)

Probability, in the proper meaning of the word, has nothing to do with question of Kavanaugh’s “guilt”. A feeling or inclination isn’t a probability, it’s just a feeling or inclination. Putting a number on it is false quantification. Scott Alexander should know better.