Saturday, July 7, 2018

Interpreting allegations against Rep. Jim Jordan

You have probably seen the allegations against Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) by now.  As a wrestling coach at Ohio State, he was complicit in covering up abuse.  "Allegedly."  Fine.  I used the "a" word.  Given the history of wrestling coaches in Congress (Dennis Hastert), that's not quite as bad as it could have been, but it's still pretty bad.  Did he do it?

The challenge of assessing this kind of thing is divorcing your assessments of Jordan from your politics.  Trump, of course, defends him completely.  Why?  Well, Trump always defends male abusers on the Republican side.  Particularly on the hard-right, and nobody is harder-right than Freedom Caucuser, Jim Jordan.  My opinion of Jordan has been stated here, and is influenced not just by my dislike of the Freedom Caucus, but by my deep respect for John Boehner.  What did John Boehner have to say about Jordan?  "Fuck Jordan.  Fuck [Jason] Chaffetz.  They're both assholes."  Also, "a terrorist.  A legislative terrorist."  Ideologically, Boehner and Jordan really aren't that far apart.  They agree on policy, mostly.  The difference is that John Boehner made a good-faith effort to try to make the country a better place as he saw it, and Jim Jordan will tear down anyone or anything, and probably murder puppies for the sake of the same tax cut that they both want, and enjoy the destruction more than the tax cut.  Jim Jordan is vile.

This, by the way, is an important test of your cognition.  Can you recognize a shitbag on your own side of the aisle?  If not, you suck, and that's kind of the point here.  John Boehner could recognize the shitbags in his own party, and it wasn't just because he was Speaker and they were causing him problems.  When Gingrich was Speaker, Boehner was among the few to recognize that he was a problem, and tried to lead a coup back in 1997.  He failed, and wound up on-the-outs (he shot at the devil and missed), and it took a decade for him to work his way back up through the ranks, but the point is that Boehner was the type of guy who could recognize a problem on his own side.  You need to be able to do that.

That brings me back to Jordan.  I am predisposed to hate him.  Scratch that.  I already hate him.  That doesn't make him guilty.  There's a process here, and it will play out, but...  I'm impatient, and so are you, so let's have a little fun, shall we?

I believe Jordan helped cover up abuse.  Not because he's an asshole, but because he was in a position of authority within a power structure.

Two news stories.  How often have you encountered each of the following:

A)  Someone in a position of power abused subordinates, it was covered up by the employer/institution when a victim tried to report it, the victim then experienced retaliation, and everything then got worse for the victim.

This is the template scenario for the MeToo movement.  As Terry Crews's testimony to the Senate reminded people, though, the problem of abuse of power goes beyond men abusing women, even if men abusing women is the modal story.  Here's an interesting story that will make a lot of people uncomfortable.  Abusiveness is widespread, and not always perpetrated by people you would expect.

B)  Someone in a position of power abused subordinates in some way, a victim reported it, and the employer/institution handled it in a legally, morally and ethically appropriate manner, fully resolving the issue and punishing the offender without the victim ever having to resort to outside authority because the employer/institution really just cares about doing the right, proper and legal thing.  Yay, them.

One of these is a common news story.  The other is not.  We read about A all the time.  How often do we read B?

At this point, I bring up a basic issue in social science:  observation bias.  Would we see B if it happened?  Would it make the national news if it happened?  Bill Shine?  That scumbag from Fox News who covered up sexual abuse there?  The one our Rapist-in-Chief just hired?  We know about him because what happened at Fox was, of course, A.  The obvious point, from a social science perspective, then, is that B might not make the news.  It could be the norm, in theory then, without us knowing.  Remember what I call "the paradox of news."  An event is newsworthy if it is unusual, leading us to the false conclusion that it is normal.  Do we observe A, leading us to the false conclusion that A is normal, when in fact, B is the norm?

The problem with that notion is that there's another element to the observation bias.  Three little letters, also in the news a lot in regards to these scandals.  I'm sure you have read about them.  Sometimes, there's a... storm... around them.  It's a Stormy issue.




Non-disclosure agreement.  Every institution that receives any such formal complaint will pressure victims to sign some kind of non-disclosure agreement.  (Hi, Michael Cohen!  Flip, motherfucker, flip!  Flip like a Romanian gymnast about whose abuse I won't joke!).  And they love forced arbitration clauses and all that bullshit.  Why do you keep reading about NDAs?  Because when institutions get complaints, if they can get the victim to sign an NDA, they can keep the victim quiet, and that's all they really care about.  No institution really cares about the victims more than preventing the embarrassment and scrutiny that would come with the public revelation of what the abusers did.  So, their priority is to protect the abusers, get the victims to sign NDAs, and cover everything up.  That's a story you keep reading, and when you factor in the observation bias created by the NDA, you understand that what you don't observe isn't necessarily about institutions voluntarily doing the right thing.  Why would they?  They have no incentive, and all of the power.  The point of the NDA is to keep it that way.

I write here about the role of observation bias frequently.  What do you observe, and what don't you observe?  This is an important element to consider in research methodology because most of our statistical tools depend on random sampling.  When we don't have random sampling procedures, we cannot treat our samples as representative.  Understanding the nature of sampling bias is critical to understanding how we interpret data gleaned when we don't have random sampling.  That is the case when we study news stories.  Do we see Scenario A and falsely conclude that it is normal as a demonstration of "the paradox of news?"  Possibly, but that is a difficult interpretation to take when institutions so aggressively pursue NDAs to keep victims quiet.  The fact that institutions place so much importance on NDAs means that they care first and foremost about secrecy, not justice, but from our perspective, that means we must infer a relative paucity of Scenario B because an institution that intent on keeping the victim quiet a) has no incentive to handle things properly, and b) is avoiding sunlight, which, as we say in politics, is the best disinfectant.  In cases of abuse, institutions care about secrecy and maintaining it above all else, including justice.

That is exactly what Jim Jordan is accused of doing.  Jim Jordan is accused of doing what all institutions care first and foremost about doing when presented with allegations of abuse.  Why do I believe it?  It's got nothing to do with Jordan himself, and you need to consider his guilt or innocence independently of what you think of his personality and politics.  Jordan claims that, had he known, he would have blown the whistle.  Whistleblowers are rare, and institutions care most only about keeping things quiet.  That's why the NDA is their favorite tool.

Any time someone tells you they would have spoken up had they known, it doesn't mean they did know, but they're probably full of shit anyway.

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