December 12, 2014

MEGAN MCARDLE: Lessons From The Rolling Stone Debacle.

When questions first emerged, a number of people treated quashing those questions as the moral equivalent of war, attacking the questioners as if being skeptical of a story was itself wrong — rather than exactly the spirit of inquiry that makes science, and public debate, work. Others pointed out that trauma victims often have fragmentary or contradictory memories, which is generally true of all eyewitnesses, not just trauma victims, and not really sufficient to explain the gaping holes in this particular story. When we get wedded to our narratives, we become blind. That is true of everyone — the people who were appropriately skeptical of this story as well as the people who weren’t — and we all need to be on guard against it all the time. . . .

Before the problems emerged with the Rolling Stone story, I saw a lot of people talking as if this story somehow represented a broad and pervasive problem on college campuses rather than a single incident. Even if the story had held up, this would have been a vast overstatement. All sorts of horrific crimes happen in America, and the legal system does not always get the justice we would like. They are not necessarily representative of American culture, or even flaws in our institutions; they are reflections of the fact that we live in a big country, and like any big country, we have some bad apples.

But people who are worried about the problem of false rape accusations are now in danger of making the same mistake. If Jackie’s story is a hoax, it is no more representative than it would be if it were true. It is one story. Were reporters and editors excessively credulous because of the nature of the accusation? That seems likely. But that doesn’t mean that most accusations of rape are false, or that feminists are happy to tell fake stories in order to advance the cause.

Well, I don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of evidence for that last proposition. Or if not “fake stories,” certainly “too good to check stories,” told with reckless disregard for whether they’re true or not.

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