Being Logical About Difficult Topics

The following post is a partial reblog from Science 2.0, written by Hontas Farmer. Farmer has taken a look at the information reported in the Geoff Marcy Title Ix Report, using “the Reasonable Person” lens. 

 

From December 24, 2015:

Geoff Marcy soon to be retired Professor of Astronomy at UC Berkley.  Pioneer of the search for exoplanets accused serial sexual harasser and perverse sexual assaulter was tried by media this year*.  Now more documents have been released. The problem with trial by media is that accusations often equal guilt.  That is the hallmark of a witch trial, that is the hallmark of a lynch mob, and no one should be lynched in the 21stcentury.  Especially now that social media makes it so easy to jump on the pile.   We can do better than that by giving both sides a chance to be heard.

….

In 2015 we are now in a place where a woman can allege sexual harassment, abuse, assault, etc and the default state of mind is to believe her until clear and convincing evidence prove otherwise.   We are now in a place where many times a “trial”in the court of public opinion or at best some sort of administrative process substitutes for any form of actual court hearing.    So let’s make a real trial of this and present the other side of the case of Geoff Marcy.   I was very hard on Geoff Marcy when this came out while affording him the presumption of innocence.

I am a person of color in the United States of AmericaAs such, I have been accused of things I did not or could not have done in the past.  When that has happened all I asked for was fairness. So in the spirit of our constitution, and the golden rule do unto others as you would have them do unto you…

….

Preponderance of evidence.

Reaction to my original article on this matter often made mention of the finding he did it by thepreponderance of the  evidence.  Reading the actual text of the finding I am really troubled by the “logic” used to reach that conclusion.

This is on page 44 of the full documentation in relation to the “crotch grab” and is proceeded by the investigator saying the accuser had no witnesses but could remember specifics*.

I found that Respondent’s reaction to this allegation lacked credibility. He did not entertain the possibility that he touched the student in any manner, including how he admittedly touched other students in the past. He distinguished Complainant 3 as someone whom he did not know, so therefore, not potentially subject to knee pats or other touching. Likewise, he characterized the behavior as that which he “would never have an interest in,” despite its congruency (arguably an extreme example) with other reported unwanted advances. Based on the preponderance of the evidence, I find it more likely than not that Respondent acted as reported by Complainant 3.

Focus on this.

Likewise, he characterized the behavior as that which he “would never have an interest in,” despite its congruency (arguably an extreme example) with other reported unwanted advances.

SO in this Title IX investigators mind the simple fact he was accused of things like hugging, a kiss on the forehead (like one might do to a small child), supposedly staring at a female student’s backside as she walked into the classroom, and giving a drunk student a ride home …. Means he more likely than not touched someone’s crotch?

That’s total BS nonsense.   That is like saying if you would get into a fist fight with one person that means if you are accused of shooting someone else you more likely than not did it.   That logic is …..not even logical. Proof is not just a sum of accusations.

What could Geoff Marcy have done differently…. Assuming for the moment he is innocent?

I practice preventative legal defense. It is my policy to document every interaction personal, private, or education with anyone in some form.

As a person of color if I enter certain stores I will be followed around as if I must be there to steal something  (MSNBC Anchor Tamron Hall, Neil DeGrasse Tyson).  As a person of color if I drive my new car through certain areas I may be stopped by the police, just because, and asked to present papers (Chris Rock talking about it).  As a person of color I cataloged a number of incidents regarding being #blackoncampus one of which had a campus officer at one of the schools I teach at instantly react to my entering a faculty lounge as if he was ready to shoot as soon as I opened the door.   Because of things like this I either I save documents and photos, or I make sure there are neutral witnesses, or at the very least I document my interactions in a journalWhen I have a meeting with anyone I tend to send an email or letter documenting my understanding of what was said.   That may sound paranoid but…I’ll bet Dr. Marcy wishes he had some of those now.

I know we are supposed to presume innocence.  I know that in practical terms one must prove innocence.

It is not enough to not break the rules; you have to PROVE that you did not break the rules.  Alternatively,if you do break a rule you can only be punished for what can be proven.

What should colleges and universities do differently?

Use the legal system to handle these things.

We have courts that are criminal, civil, and which address domestic issues such as stalking, harassment, etc.  Those tribunals are competent to hear such cases, consider evidence, and establish the credibility of witnesses.  The objection given to doing this is that then victims might not come forward.  Only people who think real court is like an episode of Law and Order SVU would think that.  In real court the accuser need not face the accused unless there is a criminal trial.  A sworn written statement, an affidavit can suffice to bring charges and have a potentially dangerous predator removed from campus via a restraining order with the full force of law.

University and College officials should serve as advocates for the accuser to get justice via the courts. Then they have to respect the decisions and orders of the court.   The accused will have all their legal rights protected through the whole process.

Let us not forget a university is much more like a town.  Students are taxed in the form of tuition to belong to a community that engages in certain activities that can lead to a credential.  If a student is deprived of the freedom to engage in those activities, they will lose a large investment of money in addition to any other legal sanctions.

A faculty member like Dr. Marcy would stand to lose tenure, promotion, and funding in addition to their freedom for a very serious allegation like sexual assault.

The legal system can take a person’s freedom.  The legal system has done it on the weight of an accusation based on a dream and only after over 28 years reversed that.   The legal system is not easy on the accused because even if they beat the charges it will cost thousands or tens of thousands in legal fees.

What of sensitivity towards victims in the legal based campus system I envision?

If the prospect of swearing out a statement is worse than sexual assault to someone … doubt them.  I don’t buy that in this day and in this age, or even 8 – 10 years ago a young woman could not accuse a man of sexual harassment.

Allow me to remind you, dear reader, of what was going on in the late 1990’s and early-mid 2000’s when much of what Dr. Marcy is accused of was taking place.

The late 90’s and early to mid 2000’s were the heyday of sexual harassment law.

  • This time period was hot on the heels of the Clarence Thomas hearings which were all about the allegations that he sexually harassed Anita Hill. It was on every TV Channel.
  • There were President Clinton’s troubles with Paula Jones and then Monica Lewinsky and almost being impeached because of it.  A woman accused a president of harassing her, and due to political motives and perjury Bill Clinton was almost removed from office.
  • In the very late 90’s and early 2000’s “Ally McBeal” was super popular.  That show was all about a single, short skirt wearing, dangerously thin, female lawyer being harassed by men she did not want and wanting a man she could not have. In an office with a unisex public toilet (and they even had THREE episodes that dealt more sensitively with transgender issues in 1999-2000 than most TV shows do now.)
  • In 2007 almost a decade ago a five year old boy was accused of sexually harassing a teacher because he hugged her.

Anyone old enough to have watched and understood “Ally McBeal”, or remembered the Clarence Thomas hearings, or the Clinton sex scandal(s) would know the gist of it.  Women were very empowered to accuse men, even powerful ones of sexual harassment.

….

Conclusion:

If the media is going to try people as if it is a court,then the media has to accept the responsibility of telling both sides of these stories with equal vigor.

My gut feeling is that between Geoff Marcy being a wanton Hannibal Lecter like predator, and a guy who just likes to hug the truth is in the middle.  He did much of what he was accused of, most of which are innocuous things.  He supposedly noticed a student’s backside, had lunch with research students, and spoke to some at a cocktail reception at a meeting of the AAS.  (In which case every student who attends a conference is a victim.)

The pendulum has swung back in favor of female accusers in cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.  For a long time, the deck was stacked against them   If we let accusations stand as if they are proof in and of themselves then we are as guilty of mob justice as those who lynched people of 1600’s Salem. (I guarantee that at least one comment on this article will say that I am “defending” Geoff Marcy simply by trying to be fair. )

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