Jack Shafer didn’t satisfy the jackass quotient?

UPDATE I: please see Lesley’s comments for some fuller criticisms of Kendall’s methodology

UPDATE II: I expected better from Freakonomics.

Slate.com has some good things going for it, like Dahlia Lithwick. It’s also got some downsides, like Jack Shafer Clearly, Shafer wasn’t enough, because now Slate’s got Steven Landsburg and his simple declarative sentences. Guess what we have now? Proof that Internet porn prevents rape! Yes, really.

Landsburg and I have radically different ideas about what constitutes proof. Let’s begin with his opening statement.

Does pornography breed rape? Do violent movies breed violent crime? Quite the opposite, it seems. First, porn. What happens when more people view more of it? The rise of the Internet offers a gigantic natural experiment. Better yet, because Internet usage caught on at different times in different states, it offers 50 natural experiments.

The bottom line on these experiments is, “More Net access, less rape.”

What experiments, Steven? What methodology? What possible conflation of variables? I’m sure you’ll enlighten us, right? First off, we have a link to a paper by a prof from Clemson (Todd Kendall), which concedes in the abstract that most previous studies contradict his own results. In fact, the majority of the paper consists of Kendall vascillating. However, Kendall is not deterred and goes on to assert that his data indicate that porn and rape can function as substitutes.

Trigger/NSFW warning: sexual assault, explanations of porn studies, and sexist stupidity

Now, without diving straight into the quagmire which is porn and feminism, let’s establish that some porn is, in fact, rape on video tape. Some of it is a damn convincing approximation. The fact that there is a porn star whose signature move is attempting to push the head of the woman he’s fucking into a toilet is prima facie evidence of the erotization of sexual assault. Not an open question.

Kendall, however, regards porn and rape as largely mutually exclusive. Indeed, he seems to dismiss the potential rapes and abuses which may occur in porn production as a cost of reducing rape more widely. There are fewer people making porn than there are consumers, so, Kendall reasons, the problem is really on the supply side, not the demand side. (Kendall eventually capitulates and concedes that he can’t endorse internet porn because it may cause more “deleterious effects” than it alleviates. In Twisty’s words, Geeze, Todd, ya think?

Yes Landsburg takes Kendall’s piece (which could be generously characterized as wishy-washy) as gospel.

OK, so we can at least tentatively conclude that Net access reduces rape. But that’s a far cry from proving that porn access reduces rape. Maybe rape is down because the rapists are all indoors reading Slate or vandalizing Wikipedia. But professor Kendall points out that there is no similar effect of Internet access on homicide. It’s hard to see how Wikipedia can deter rape without deterring other violent crimes at the same time. On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine how porn might serve as a substitute for rape.

Really, how? Kendall theorizes that watching porn could either satisfy sexual cravings or power trips and that masturbating to orgasm obviates the desire to rape. Landsburg is content to speculate that would-be rapists are instead finding love on Match.com and add a few more references to Kendall’s paper. (If that’s not enough to deter someone from internet dating, I don’t know what is.)

There’s also the idea that people who are watching porn are otherwise engaged and therefore cannot be raping and watching the latest Tristan Taormino flick simultanteously. (The same idea is proposed for violent movies: blockbuster releases of particularly violent movies correlate with a short term drop in crime.) But that really doesn’t answer the questions about the long term. Surely, as a policy matter, we need to think about the effects of repeated viewings of explicit material, both that night and for the nights after.

Landsburg wraps up his article with this cheerful commentary:

Psychologists have found that male subjects, immediately after watching pornography, are more likely to express misogynistic attitudes. But as professor Kendall points out, we need to be clear on what those experiments are testing: They are testing the effects of watching pornography in a controlled laboratory setting under the eyes of a researcher. The experience of viewing porn on the Internet, in the privacy of one’s own room, typically culminates in a slightly messier but far more satisfying experience—an experience that could plausibly tamp down some of the same aggressions that the pornus interruptus of the laboratory tends to stir up.

Wait, wait, wait. That sounds like we’re seeing misogynistic attitudes as a result of blue balls instead of watching porn. Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse: the idea that if a man can’t jerk off to porn he’s more likely to commit rape or that sexual frustration is a direct cause of rape. It sounds like a variation on “bitch wouldn’t let me have some, so I took it,” or something equally nauseating.

Also, I’m not seeing an easy way to get around this study design issue. I would love to be on the IRB reviewing that study proposal. Methods section: hire male subjects to watch specified internet porn clips in their own bedrooms, have them choose whether or not to whack off, and then take an online survey designed to assess attitudes.

It would be comical if it weren’t so sickening.


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39 Responses to Jack Shafer didn’t satisfy the jackass quotient?

  1. Pingback: Porn and Rape, Part 2 « Abstract Nonsense

  2. mustelid says:

    eeewww….okay, next lameass excuse: “The bitch didn’t pay our highspeed internet bill, so that’s why I raped her to death and cut up the body. If I’d just had my porn, none of this woulda happened. It’s all HER fault!” Once again, eeewww…

  3. Sheelzebub says:

    Yeah. Jeez. Misogyny has nothing to do with whether or not you can sucessfully wack off (and if it does, then the strip club business is a big promoter of rape, no?). It has everything to do with entitlement.

    A lot of the stuff out there is degrading as hell to women, and a lot of the stuff out there is incredibly racist. But say that and you’re a right-wing erotophobe.

  4. Lesley says:

    Ah feh, the entire methodology of the study is flawed. As Kendall himself notes, there is sampling bias in reports of rape, such that stranger rapes are more likely to be reported than acquaintance rapes. As such, you cannot possibly draw any conclusions about the impact of internet access on acquaintance rapes, which are the most common type of rape in the first place.

    Second, he couldn’t pull apart the use of the internet for porn from the use of the internet for non-porn. Meaning, Kendall cannot really prove anything about the use of pornography on the internet vis a vis even stranger rape.

    Third, since they don’t have offender profiles, as Kendall himself admits, there is no way to know how much pornography the rapists consumed prior to committing rapes vs. how much non-rapists consume. So he cannot judge the impact of pornography on the rapists themselves.

    Fourth, while he does factor in some demographic variables, he doesn’t take into account any other changes in societal values over the last x number of years that might explain a reduction in rape vs. other violent crimes.

    Fifth, with respect to the lack of statistically significant correlation between internet use and other violent crimes, without examining the factors that contribute to rape vs. other violent crimes, you cannot rule out other explanations for that phenomenon. A lack of correlation to one type of crime does not, as such, prove a correlation to another.

    In short, the study contains no proof that internet porn reduces rape. For all we know, all those 15-19 year-olds were at home playing games on the internet, and, as such, weren’t out committing rape. Or they were raping their girlfriends instead, who didn’t report the crimes. Or they weren’t committing rape for reasons that have nothing to do with internet access but with societal variables he didn’t factor into his analysis. Or all of the above.

  5. Lauren says:

    If only my rapist had been a porn addict.

  6. shannon says:

    Thanks for the takedown, fizz and lesley. Although I’m sure this ‘study’ will be used internet wide as an excuse for why watching porn of guys shoving their cocks down some woman’s throat is perfectly OK.*

    *I don’t hate sex, that sort of thing just seems like violence to me.

  7. evil fizz says:

    If only my rapist had been a porn addict.

    I’m feeling a blues song coming on.

    *headdesk*

  8. antiprincess says:

    If only my rapist had been a porn addict.

    Lauren – can you explain further what you meant by that?

    I realize that my stupidity and inability to read you clearly could come off as extremely insulting – I don’t mean it to be. I’m trying to ask for clarification.

    On one hand, I could see where you were being sarcastic, to mean “of course my rapist was a porn addict!”

    on the other hand, you might also be saying “maybe if he was a porn addict he wouldn’t have come after me!”

    I think, in order to be considered “addicted” to something, a person has to prefer that thing over most anything else – up to and including actual human interaction.

    so maybe a porn addict, when faced with a choice between the drug of choice (porn) and human interaction (rape), would choose the drug of choice over the human interaction.

    I haven’t paid any attention to the study. I don’t trust studies in general. lies, damn lies and statistics…

  9. antiprincess says:

    note on comment #8 – I am totally not a doctor, psychologist, researcher, or professional of any kind, nor am I trying to put forth any kind of scientific expert-y opinion.

    it was mere speculation.

  10. Sara says:

    I don’t know if he took this from somewhere else, but my husband the other day noted that Slate is simply anti-conventional-wisdom and not of any particular political philosophy. It was fun to read when the conventional wisdom was generally wrong – most people supported the war in Iraq, most people supported Bush, etc. – but now that the cw has come around to more accurately reflect reality, Slate has had to start opposing it, and thus we see more eye-roll-inducing articles like this one. Sometimes they achieve a good balance of silliness and plausibility in articles like this, but this one really was too stupid to even be amused by.

  11. evil fizz says:

    I’m not opposed to anti-conventional wisdom as long as it’s supported by more than one ambivalent study which goes against the overwhelming weight of all other published data.

  12. Aishwarya says:

    Rather an interesting post on this here

  13. Lauren says:

    I was being sarcastic.

  14. Sara says:

    evil fizz, what I was saying is that this is just one of Slate’s novelty articles where they don’t necessarily care if any actual sense is made. I’m reminded of writing essays in high school that had absurd theses just because I was not going to write the 11-millionth carbon-copy Hamlet essay.

  15. Sara says:

    Of course, I don’t mean to excuse the article – it’s stupid. I’m just past being pissed off at such lame arguments.

  16. antiprincess says:

    I was being sarcastic.

    got it. thanks.

  17. orange says:

    Well, somebody better mail me a copy of Rambo fast, because I feel like punching Kendall and Landsburg right in the goddam face.

    Just another way to roundabout blame women for men’s (and society’s) control issues.

  18. Pingback: Wednesday Night Links « Abstract Nonsense

  19. The old paradigm was, “porn leads to sexual arousal, which leads to rape”. Later it was, “porn which depicts BDSM sex and rape fantasy leads to real-life rape, monkey see-monkey do”.

    Now we have somebody saying, “porn leads to masturbation which leads to good citizenship”. I have to say that at least as far as that goes, I find this new approach both more appealing and more plausible.

  20. JR says:

    The point has been well made that the explosion in pornography (where technology goes porn is soon to follow) caused by the Interent did not lead to a proportionate rise in rape statistics. Therefore the argument for a causal relationship took a massive hit and is surviving right now on momentum and mythology. Like the book Freakonomics, lack of social acceptability for a theory (or the converse, taking the wind out of a popular theory) is not proof of it’s error. You’d be much better off feeding the tiger of male sexuality like they do in Asia instead of trying to beat it into submission as in the US (the Europeans are far more liberal sexually than Americans are).

  21. evil fizz says:

    The point has been well made that the explosion in pornography (where technology goes porn is soon to follow) caused by the Interent did not lead to a proportionate rise in rape statistics

    Except the explosion in pornography also tracks with number of major social changes, some of which could plausibility be attributed to the decline in rapes, like improved social standing of women.

    You’d be much better off feeding the tiger of male sexuality like they do in Asia instead of trying to beat it into submission as in the US (the Europeans are far more liberal sexually than Americans are).

    Uh, by doing what exactly? Unlimited porn for free 24/7? Lots of sex trade options? The “tiger of male sexuality” (ha!) is subject to its own considerable mythology.

    p.s. Kindly avoid the ad homs.

  22. antiprincess says:

    the concept of male sexuality as animalistic and insatiable and voracious (“tiger-y”) is relatively new, historically speaking.

    women were assumed to be the insatiable ones until fairly recently – some 200 – 300 years ago, I think. (I could be wrong.)

    I think I read somewhere that part of the reason for celibacy in the clergy is because contact with insatiable women would drain a man of his strength and vital energy and blah blee blah.

    I mean – if women are NOT insatiable (that is, if there does NOT exist a “tiger of female sexuality”) but in fact are free of the urge for constant sexual activity, there is no reason to avoid them.

    is insatiability socially constructed?

  23. Lesley says:

    I mean – if women are NOT insatiable (that is, if there does NOT exist a “tiger of female sexuality”) but in fact are free of the urge for constant sexual activity, there is no reason to avoid them.

    Oh, that’s not what we’re told. Not these days, at any rate. Women are to be avoided because men might not be able to control themselves if they see women. We’re apparently too distracting for those poor men to be able to control themselves. For example, in Orthodox synagogues, this is the reason we’re told women have to sit behind a curtain during services. The sight of us would be too distracting for men. Of course, ask why the men don’t sit behind the curtain if they have the problem, and what do you get? “Well, women are so much more spiritually pure than men that we should sacrifice so that the spiritually impure men can get the greater benefit of the services.”

    Only that doesn’t work when a woman is having her period. Then we’re still spiritually pure,but we are physically impure.

    Oh feh. I’m stopping now. There’s a reason I stopped going to Orthodox synagogues.

  24. Alon Levy says:

    Except the explosion in pornography also tracks with number of major social changes, some of which could plausibility be attributed to the decline in rapes, like improved social standing of women.

    But if that were the case, you’d see a clear correlation between decline in rape and improvement in women’s status. For example, there might be a strong correlation between rape in year X minus rape in X-1 and the wage gap in X minus the wage gap in X-1. In the US, no such correlation seems to exist.

    In addition, you’d see less rape in less sexist societies. But again, that’s not the case. Sweden, possible the most feminist country in the world, has 11,000 reported sexual assaults every year, which corresponds to a rate of 122/100,000. The American survey rate is only about 70/100,000. Sweden has an overreporting problem with homicide, but it’s fairly safe to assume any similar problem with sexual assault is smaller than the underreporting problem.

    Of course Sweden also has more liberal free speech laws, which translate to easier transmission of porn, so it also weakens the porn-prevents-rape hypothesis. But it’s also evidence against the theory that sexism causes rape.

  25. X. Trapnel says:

    Evil_Fizz: This is clearly just a first-cut working paper, and a lot of the critiques seem dead-on, but isn’t it good that people are trying to study the problem with other tools and new data? Doesn’t the explosion of pornography due to the internet seems like a great natural experiment for testing just what effect porn consumption has on rape? Also–why the disappointment with the Freakonomics post? If anything, he comes across as quite skeptical, endorsing and linking to an explicitly critical blog post and suggesting that other factors are doing the real work.

    When you say ‘goes against the overwhelming weight of all the other published data’, exactly how overwhelming are you talking about; is the lit review in the paper not a very fair one? I hope I don’t come across as concern-trolling; I was actually looking for a good survey article a week ago for a class, and would love to be pointed to one.

  26. X. Trapnel says:

    That said, Landsburg’s “well, now we know everything” tone of supreme confidence is incredibly annoying.

  27. evil fizz says:

    I was disappointed by Freakonomics because it was just “haven’t read the paper, can’t comment.”

    When I refer to going against the weight of the published data, I’m relying on Kendall’s own claim. At one point in the article, he says that his findings are contrary to almost every other article that;s comparable,

  28. Lesley says:

    How are you defining feminist, Alon, when you state that Sweden is possibly the most feminist country in the world? I’m genuinely curious as to what measures you’re using.

  29. X. Trapnel says:

    Re: Freakonomics–fair enough, though doesn’t the fact that he linked to a quie critical post, and expressed his doubts about the paper, count for something? Thoroughly reviewing a 50-page empirical paper takes time!

    Re: the literature–when I read that section of the article, part 4, I didn’t really get that impression at all. He lists 6 similar (population level) studes, 3 of which show a positive correlation, with 1 negative and 2 seemingly mixed. And quite frankly, from his description of the studies, none of them seem nearly as promising for testing the hypothesis as internet-spread. Again: I don’t think this paper *does* settle the question, not at all. It just seems excessive to say that the question was already settled, in the other direction.

  30. Donna Darko says:

    The World Economic Forum puts out a Global Gender Gap Report every year based on economic participation, economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment and health and well-being.

    Sweden
    Norway
    Iceland
    Denmark
    Finland
    N. Zealand
    Canada
    U.K.
    Germany
    Australia

  31. joe smith says:

    Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse: the idea that if a man can’t jerk off to porn he’s more likely to commit rape or that sexual frustration is a direct cause of rape.

    Errr…

    It seems very intuitive that sexual frustration IS a direct cause of rape. I would think that the burden of proof would be to show that it is not. Men are willing to pay for sex, hence it is a object of desire, presumably there are also those who are willing to take it by force.

  32. evil fizz says:

    I don’t think this paper *does* settle the question, not at all. It just seems excessive to say that the question was already settled, in the other direction.

    It’s not, and I do apologize if I gave that impression. It’s been a really long day.

    It seems very intuitive that sexual frustration IS a direct cause of rape.

    I find it unlikely that rape is just about denial of pussy or sexual gratification. Like I said elsewhere, if masturbation to porn alleviates misogyny, the world should look very different. Also, I find it deeply disconcerting that being denied sex leads men to take it by force. My own take is that rape is elements of entitlement, misogyny, and a certain level of sociopathy (i.e., a lack of empathy). I suspect, although I don’t know how to demonstrate this empirically, that sexual gratification is way down on the list.

  33. Alon Levy–

    I would also think that rape victims in Sweeden are way, way, way less stigmatized than their American counterparts. There is a massive underreporting problem in the USA, and comparing bulk statistics across countries like that is wildy problematic for that very reason.

  34. joe smith says:

    I find it unlikely that rape is just about denial of pussy or sexual gratification. Like I said elsewhere, if masturbation to porn alleviates misogyny, the world should look very different.
    .
    Rape and mysogyny are two different, but overlapping things, nobody’s suggesting that masturbation will stop men from hating women, but fantasy might be a substitute for rape; that seeems reasonable.

    Also, I find it deeply disconcerting that being denied sex leads men to take it by force.

    Leads SOME men to take it by force, just like SOME men will kill each other over a parking space. If people will seize a pair of shoes by violence, why not a piece of ass?

    Mysogyny, yes.
    Sociopathy, definitely…its a violent crime, like any other.
    I don’t know what you mean by entitlement.

  35. Lesley says:

    The World Economic Forum puts out a Global Gender Gap Report every year based on economic participation, economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment and health and well-being.

    Perhaps those are the measurements that Alon was using. OK. Without understanding more about the rapists, it is very difficult to assess how much Sweden’s political culture impacts the rape rate in Sweden.

    Those criteria do not measure how individual men in Sweden view individual women. You could make the case that the laws that make those things a reality in Sweden are a proxy for how the majority of individual men view individual women, and you would have a point. However, if the rapes are primarily committed by men who do not hold the same views as the majority of Swedish men, then the political culture in Sweden is irrelevant to whether or not sexism is a direct cause of rape. It’s not Sweden that is raping women. It is men in Sweden. What matters is whether the rapists are misogynistic in determining the impact of sexism on rape.

  36. antiprincess says:

    Lesley – Oh, that’s not what we’re told. Not these days, at any rate.

    I agree. But I’m saying – is it possible that neither gender is more insatiable than the other? that “insatiability” is a sort of fakey concept?

    For a couple thousand years it was considered a THE TRUTH in many places that women were bottomless pits of sexual need who cannot rise above their base desire, and that men could rise above their base desires by avoiding women.

    Now we’re told it’s THE TRUTH that women are, as you said, too alluring and distracting for men, who are bottomless pits of sexual need and cannot rise above their base desires.

    I’m saying – maybe this whole “insatiability” thing is kind of made up, and we (the human “we”) are only “insatiable” when we’re told we’re “insatiable”.

  37. Donna Darko says:

    Lesley, that is strange. Swedes may be more opening to reporting rapes.

  38. Kali says:

    Alon, for god’s sake. I bet the reported rape rate in Saudi Arabia is miniscule. Clearly patriarchy discourages rape! Or the reporting of it. One of those.
    I was actually thinking a few months ago of doing that exact same analysis, with Internet access as a proxy for porn availability. But I wouldn’t have even thought of using reported rape as a measurement of rape rates. There’s no evidence that there’s even a correlation– in fact over the long term, reported rapes and actual rape rates are inversely correlated (as far as I remember– I wish I knew where I got that from.) The critique the Freakonomics blog links to seems pretty good.

  39. Bitter Scribe says:

    What experiments, Steven? What methodology? What possible conflation of variables? I’m sure you’ll enlighten us, right?

    I personally could live the rest of my life quite happily without being thus “enlightened.”

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