‘Abortion Advert’ controversy in the UK

There’s some controversy in the UK about an advert (which you can watch here) from Marie Stopes (which is a sexual health charity), which is to air on television.

I don’t know about you, but it seems hard, upon watching, to see this as anything other than an attempt to inform about available services. In fact, it has been the advert was in part motivated by the finding that many women did not know what resources might be available, or how to access them, in the case of unwanted pregnancy.

All the more baffling, then, to see opponents of these describe them as portraying abortion as ‘just another consumer service’. That claim seems to rely on the following false assumption: that all television adverts market consumer services. But of course many television adverts are not of this kind: public health broadcasts (to which these adverts are surely most analogous), party political broadcasts, are but some of the counter-examples.

There’s another tirade against the adverts here. I haven’t picked apart all the fallacious arguments in it yet, but feel free to do so. It might be useful for critical thinking classes.

The other side: addition

There’s a new book out called Tech Transfer, written by “Daniel S. Greenberg, … a leading science journalist with a deep knowledge of the academic world and science policy. He edited the news section of Science magazine for many years and then a newsletter, Science and Government Report.”  He regarded himself as reporting on a lot of waste and fraud.  O dear.

Well we don’t want to be tarred with that brush.  Further, there is no way I’m going to take on the topic of waste and fraud here today!  So I’m just going to give you some of the summary in the NY Times and then see if I can get the book on Kindle.

The best scene in this hilarious first novel is a meeting of the trustees of Kershaw University, an elite research university only 200 years younger than Harvard. The trustees have to select a new president. They listen with mounting dismay as the professional headhunter in charge of the search reads out the polished résumés of each candidate, but notes in each case the fatal flaws revealed by background checks, ranging from spousal abuse to bestiality and, even more fatal, plagiarism…..

As the trustees hasten to leave for the airport, they agree on a nonentity, Mark Winner, an economics professor with a thin résumé and a clean rap sheet.

… When Dr. Winner assumes the presidency of Kershaw University, he learns the folly of challenging the tenured faculty on any of their sacrosanct, non-negotiable issues:

“These included annual pay increases, lax to near-non-existent conflict-of-interest and conflict-of-commitment regulations, and ample pools of powerless grad students, postdocs and adjuncts to minimize professorial workloads. As a safety net, the faculty favored disciplinary procedures that virtually assured acquittal of members accused of abusing subordinates, seducing students, committing plagiarism, fabricating data, or violating the one-day-a-week limit on money-making outside dealings.”

Addition:  I strongly recommend against buying the kindle version, which I unfortunately now own.  The formatting is so poor and distracting that the book is close to unreadable.

The Stone, # 2

The first entry in the series of contemporary philosophers that the NY Times is running was Simon Critchley (discussed here and here).  The second is philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto, who provides reflections on a piece of performance art at MoMA.  The work is “The artist is present,” and it is created and  performed by Marina Abramović, with various members of  the audience also entering into the work.  Here’s a clip of what the work looked like at one stage.  Later the table was removed:

I was puzzle by Danto’s piece.  It was good to be reminded of some of the obvious features of performance art.  I think I had expected some more discussion of what one might bring as a philosopher to such a work.  Still, let us know what you think.

A fascinating set of pictures of those sitting with Marina is here.  There’s an interesting piece on the work at the New York Review of Books.  Here’s a brief profile from the New Yorker and its short commentary on the show.


“Punding” refers to repetitive,  purposeless, stereotypical  behavior typically induced by prolonged use of amphetamines or cocaine or by some drug therapies for, for example, Parkinson’s.  It seems to me to provide a good example of gendered behavior that can look purely biochemical but which also, the slightest reflection shows, has a large social component that can’t plausibly be thought to be innate.   Here’s a description from Molecular Psychiatry (2010) 15, 560–573; doi:10.1038/mp.2009.95:

Punding is a stereotyped behavior characterized by an intense fascination with a complex, excessive, nongoal oriented, repetitive activity. Men tend to repetitively tinker with technical equipment such as radio sets, clocks, watches and car engines, the parts of which may be analyzed, arranged, sorted and cataloged but rarely put back together. Women, in contrast, incessantly sort through their handbags, tidy continuously, brush their hair or polish their nails. Punders are normally aware of the inapposite and obtuse nature of the behavior; however, despite the consequent self-injury, they do not stop such behavior. The most common causes of punding are dopaminergic replacement therapy in patients affected by Parkinson’s disease (PD) and cocaine and amphetamine use in addicts.

Do note the use of “tend to.”  I haven’t read any descriptions of men polishing their nails or sorting through handbags, but sometimes women will get caught up in more masculine-stereotypical tasks.

I really don’t know how the stereotypical behavior ends up being differentiated by genders.  I’d guess the medication impacts some reward mechanisms, and I  wonder if  this indicates how deeply we are affected by participating in fairly trivial gendered behavior.   If you know more or can make more of it, please let us know!  As it is, I do just mean to present it as an example of  quite specific gendered behavior that isn’t plausibly regarded as innate but which can be  set  of by medication.

Fruit bats and sexual harassment: addition

This post is not about bat-on-bat harassment.  It isn’t really exactly about sexual harassment.  Rather, it’s about a very messy and unclear situation at the University College Cork (Ireland) that surrounds a complaint of sexual harassment.

A male professor showed a female  professor an article about bat fellatio (which we commented on here).   She complained to human resources, and he was censured and is subject to two years of monitoring.  The web is full of discussions of the incident, which almost entirely see it in terms of a violation of the right to free speech (though not all do).  So presented, the assumption seems to be that he easily could have been just very interested in evolution and sexuality, and she was probably nasty or unstable.  And, of course, it is very worrying if one result of all this is that discussions of the sex life of other species are now seen as dangerous to one’s career.

One thing to wonder about here is whether people who are making the assumption of his blamelessness have had much experience in the varieties of sexual harassment.   There are  people who talk altogether too much about  gender characteristics and sexuality; they are at least creepy.  I can think of two recent cases in my academic  environment: one was sadly disturbed, I thought.  It was as though he lacked a “shut off” mechanism that keeps most of us from sharing too much information about our inner lives.  After a particularly revolting grad class on Louis Caroll, sex with children and semen, the women in the class complained, but I doubt  much was done.  The other person was different and in a  powerful position.  The constant foregrounding of one’s “charm and jewelry” was part of an ongoing power play.  I did complain, to no good effect, and I certainly got a very negative scolding from someone in authority.

Still, for all we know, maybe the “he” in this story thought it was just a fun article.  Perhaps it was all just a gigantic misunderstanding.   

One thing we learn here is once again the perils of complaining about sexual harassment.  You may face the judgment of “peers” who are pretty clueless, though not hesitant to judge you negatively.   This is not to say that the man in question was harasser.   It is to say the facts we know do not settle the issue.

(Thanks to KC and Mr. Jender.)

Here by the way is her account:  http://felidware.com/DylanEvans/c1.jpg

It is one document split into two pieces.

Addition:  having read her account, I have to say it is very believable.  I’d be really interested in hearing whether others have had this sort of (alleged) experience.

Anoymity for Rape Defendants?

You know I can honestly see how this idea seems like a reasonable one: “Hey, rape victims get anonymity. So shouldn’t those they accused get anonymity as well, until they’ve convicted? Of course, those guilty of rape don’t deserve anonymity, which is why they’ll be named after conviction. But those who are innocent don’t deserve to suffer the consequences of a false rape accusation. It’ll be fairer to make it anonymous for everyone.”

Except that:

1. Rape would be the only crime for which the accused get anonymity. This would mean that:
2. There will be gender disparity in the treatment of defendants: those granted anonymity will be overwhelmingly male.
3. There will be a very strong implication that rape accusations are especially likely to be false and

a. This is not true– the rate of false accusations is the same as for any other crime.
b. This is a very damaging myth, which helps to contribute to the appallingly low conviction figures for rape.

4. The appallingly low conviction figures for rape mean that very few accused rapists will get named.
5. 4 is especially problematic because serial rapists are often caught when victims who had previously hesitated to come forward see their rapists on trial for a different rape.

So, in the end, not a good idea at all.

(Thanks, Mr Jender!)

Victory for Claire Finch

Press release from the English Collective of Prostitutes
On Thursday 29 April, in Luton Crown Court, Claire Finch was found NOT GUILTY of a criminal charge of keeping a brothel. The jury, in line with public opinion, refused to criminalise Ms Finch for working together with friends from her own home for safety. Ms Finch, her friends and colleagues, her legal team and the English Collective of Prostitutes which co-ordinated the case, celebrated this victory for rights and safety.

This case is a precedent – it forges a way for sex workers to work together from premises. Thousands of women who want to protect their safety now have the possibility of a legal defence against criminal charges. Sex workers are 10 times more likely to be attacked on the street than indoors, and it is much safer to work with someone else than to work alone. Yet the law expressly forbids this – two or more women working together are classified as a brothel. Following the decision of the court, all pending prosecutions of women working together without force or coercion must now be dropped. Parliament must now look to decriminalise as New Zealand did successfully nearly seven years ago, improving women’s safety without increasing prostitution.
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King’s College: Broader Problems Still There

Shalom Lappin and Wilfried Meyer-Viol, two of those whose posts were being cut, but who have now been reinstated, have written an important letter to read.

We wish that we could tell you that the crisis at King’s has fully passed and that all is now well throughout the College. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The College management is continuing to pursue restructuring plans in other Schools, where the academic staff have been forced to re-apply for their positions. Not a few of our colleagues in these Schools remain at risk of dismissal, and some are being pressured to accept “voluntary” severance. Moreover, the events at King’s are by no means unique. They are an acute instance of a pattern that we are seeing, in one form or another, in many other universities throughout the UK. As Britain’s new government embarks on deep cuts in public spending in order to deal with the country’s large deficit, we think it likely that processes of the sort that we have been experiencing at King’s will be widespread across the entire UK university sector within the next few years.

The way in which King’s, and other universities here in the UK have been responding to the financial challenges that they are facing raises at least two fundamental issues of principle. First, in dealing with a budgetary crisis does one treat forced redundancy as the last resort, to be invoked only after all other possible methods of cost reduction have been exhausted, or does management reserve the right to dismiss academic staff at its discretion in order to optimize its revenue?

It’s worth noting, though, that philosophers’ efforts played a crucial role in turning things around for philosophy. When we’re mobilised, we can make a difference for our colleagues. The fact that we can still have such effects is some reason for hope.