The Editor's Back Fence

Skeptics and Sex

Becky O'Malley
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 12:50:00 PM

In the last few months I’ve done a couple of pieces expressing a certain amount of skepticism about some reported cases of sexual misconduct: Setting All Kinds of Limits and Sexual Sins: Are Contrition and Redemption Possible?

It turns out that there’s a magazine for that. A Planet reader sent me a link to an interesting opinion essay, I, Too, Am Thinking About Me, Too by Carol Tavris, which was published in a publication I’d not been familiar with, eSkeptic. It’s the online newsletter of The Skeptics Society, whose announced goal is to “Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.” Tavris recounts another author‘s difficulty in finding a publisher for a defense of due process even when there are allegations of sexual transgressions. Some of the publication’s articles also appear in print as Skeptic Magazine.

The latest issue of eSkeptic features a book review, by Frederick Crews, a well-known Berkeley writer who is the author of several books and numerous articles about the weak scientific underpinnings of recovered memory theory and Freudianism, of The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment, by Mark Pendergrast. The book’s topic is even more explosive than sexual misconduct of men toward women: a pederasty conviction which the book’s author views as a miscarriage of justice. It seems that where sex is concerned, the rules about admissible evidence and statutes of limitations which usually apply in criminal prosecutions go out the window, especially if juveniles are the alleged victims. 

On Saturday the New York Times ran an op-ed about what will surely be called the backlash to #MeToo:Publicly, We Say #MeToo. Privately, We Have Misgivings by Daphne Merkin. 

Evidence that cooler heads are now reassessing the situation can be also be found in a couple of stories in today’s Times: Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks on the #MeToo Moment and Major Donor Reconsiders Support for Democrats Who Urged Al Franken to Quit.  

It’s obvious that many men and even some women need to clean up their act where sex is concerned, but though the cleansing is long overdue, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Even in apparently horrendous cases, the usual due process safeguards are needed to make sure that the offense actually occurred as charged, and if the crime is proved, the punishment should fit the crime.