Free Speech

"How Often Do You Think People Make False Accusations" Related to Sexual Misconduct, Discrimination, or Retaliation?

"All the times," "sometimes," or "rarely"? A prominent public university's training module requires faculty to give a particular answer.

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A correspondent of mine, who is a tenured professor at a prominent public research university, e-mailed me about this item in a mandatory online training that he had to go through:

When he answered "Sometimes," he got the answer, "Not Quite" / "You might be surprised to learn that false reports aren't common, and frivolous claims are almost nonexistent. According to a recent study, it is far more likely that troubling behavior will go unreported than that someone will make a false report. Try again."

He couldn't proceed until he gave the demanded answer, which is "rarely."

Now universities, like other employers, are entitled to require their employees to go through training on various procedures, whether having to do with safety, financial transactions, legal compliance, or managerial obligations. And they are entitled to test the employees to make sure that they are aware of the rules.

But especially in a university, which rightly protects—and indeed demands—intellectual independence and honesty in its faculty, such questions shouldn't require faculty members to give answers that they credibly think are wrong; nor should they turn on vague terms such as "sometimes" or "rarely." (Indeed, the question would be a bad multiple choice question in virtually any context, precisely because "sometimes" and "rarely" are undefined, even in an approximate sense.)

If the university wants to ask, "According to the studies cited in this module, approximately what percentage of accusations are false?," and then require an answer that reflects the studies, I think that would be acceptable. But it's wrong, I think, to require a faculty member to say that he believes some fact, in a situation where the facts are highly contestable (as they are for something hard to measure, such as the percentage of false accusations). And it's doubly wrong to require a faculty member to give one vague answer ("rarely") instead of another ("sometimes").

I take the same view, of course, of exams for students: I think they can legitimately ask a student to report what the material taught in class indicates, but shouldn't test students on what they really believe about controversial matters. That may at times be a vague line (though it can be made clearer with clearly worded questions or statements on the exam material), and at times it might be a hard line for courts to enforce, even in public universities that are bound by First Amendment limits on compelled speech. But it's an important line that universities, whether public universities or private universities that are committed to academic freedom, need to respect.

In this case, the faculty member wrote to the president, provost, dean, Faculty Senate chair, faculty academic freedom committee chair, and the director of the equal opportunity/affirmative action office:

Today I attempted to complete the educational module, Preventing Sexual Misconduct, Discrimination and Retaliation. The most recent email I received on this training states that "This module is a priority for the University and is a required work expectation for all employees. More importantly, completing this module is the right thing to do."

On this last sentence, I disagree. In fact, I cannot in good conscience complete it, nor should any faculty member at this university, since doing so violates academic freedom.

In particular, in order to continue the training, at multiple points I am required to give the one and only "correct" answer to a question. If such questions were only to see if the trainee understood university policy, a legitimate aim of the university, I would have no problem. But they are not limited to this goal.  Instead, the training aims to make the user agree to statements about the world in general which the university has no right to require of faculty.

Right now I am stuck in Module 8, Taking Action Against Retaliation, Skills Workshop.  Here I am presented with a section entitled "How Common Are False Accusations?". First, the section gives some information

[Here the e-mail includes the image I copied above. -EV]

Then it asks a question:

[Likewise, see the image above. -EV]

If I hit  "All the time" or "Sometimes", I receive the reply

[Again, see above. -EV]

More importantly, however, I can't move on. Only by hitting the response "Rarely" can the training continue.

Here, my own sincere answer is "Sometimes" or "I don't know". I understand that the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action asserts that the answer is "Rarely", but I am not being tested here on my understanding of what that office asserts. I am being required, as a condition to continue the training, to assent to an assertion to which I do not agree.

I am a tenured faculty member at a public university in the United States, not the Soviet Union. I refuse.

It looks like the university is indeed going to ask the vendor (EverFi) that created the module to revise the structure of its questions; I'll report more if I learn more.

NEXT: New Developments in Ohio's Challenge to the Stimulus Bill Provision Restricting Tax Cuts by States Receiving Federal Grants under the Act

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  1. YES!!!!!!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    1. Between people who know each other, the answer almost 100% of the time.

      Then spend any time with a police interrogator, the victim will get a false memory implanted to clear the case and to get a good job rating fror the interrogator.

      1. See this review. Look at the pictures. The other point not stated is that Democrat people have ugly faces. That includes the tech billionaires. Visit MSNBC, and the people being fronted on TV have really ugly faces.

        https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/08/columbia-university-mattress-girl-emmas-sulkowicz-paul-nungesser-lawsuit-rape-accusation-exonerated/

  2. “If the university wants to ask, “According to the studies cited in this module, approximately what percentage of accusations are false?,” and then require an answer that reflects the studies, I think that would be acceptable.”

    True. But there’s a very big chance that the studies they’re citing don’t support claim that such accusations happen rarely.

    Such information is very difficult to obtain, and we have no idea how often false accusations happen.

  3. I don’t see how it’s possible to know what percentage of accusations are false. As with what percentage of the population has had a homosexual experience, there is no way to gather objective data.

    1. What about mandatory asshole inspections?

      1. So how exactly would we inspect you?

        1. Possibly this might be one of the easier cases to do that? After all, you wouldn’t have to go searching.

      2. That’s not the only possible homosexual experience.

      3. At least buy me dinner first.

    2. Taken as a statement of the total population, that’s accurate. You could, however, study and report on the percentage of accusations that are false of the accusations whose falsity has been tested.

      So, for example, you could say that of 1000 events in the study window, 45 were confirmed true, 5 were confirmed false and 950 could not be proven either way (to whatever standards of proof the study methodology requires). The media interpretation would be “Only 5 in 1000 (1/2 of 1%) of reports are confirmed false” which would definitely fit most people’s interpretation of “rarely”. The proper interpretation would be that 10% of confirmed reports are false – a number that most people would interpret as “sometimes”.

      1. In your scenario, the study would be consistent with both “sometimes” and “rarely”.

        But that’s not how they do it, they report the percentage of demonstrably false accusations as false the false accusation rate.

        See, for example, here.

      2. No, the only correct way to report that is “only 50 in 1000 of reports are confirmed true.”

        “Innocent until proven guilty”, not “guilty until proven innocent.”

        So, the correct question is “”How Often Do You Think People Make TRUE Accusations Related to Sexual Misconduct, Discrimination, or Retaliation?” And the correct answer is “rarely” (since 5% is pretty rare”).

    3. You are being too logical.
      The question is asked to indoctrinate.

      If I had a similar question on a safety training online course for my research division, I would expect sometimes as the realistic answer, even though the number of incidents was only a few per year.

  4. I guess “Impossible to know, since there is not valid way to statistically sample and correct for reporting bias” is not the correct answer?

  5. Seems like you can save alot of money on research, if you just require academics to believe what you say.

    1. It was a stupid way of making an important organizational point: whatever you personally think about this you need to take any report of it very seriously and follow our pre-established protocol so our asses are covered from lawsuit, bad press, or, to be less cynical, one of our students being harmed in this way (and the indirect harms to others that may follow).

      1. Yeah, I guess if they had said something completely different than what they’d said, that would be different.

        Instead of making the point you wish they had made, they decided to spread false propaganda that could result in innocent students being expelled.

        1. It’s a way to make the point I described, a way that tries to take it out of the realm of ‘this is an order because we know better.’ Common psychology trick in PSA type things.

          1. It’s a talking point designed to weaken due process protections.

            And it’s not supported by the data.

            1. “It’s a talking point designed to weaken due process protections.”

              No, it’s to make people take allegations seriously, which there’s a long history of not doing.

              “And it’s not supported by the data.”

              Really, now?

              1. “Really, now?”

                Really. Generally, a small percentage of accusations are demonstrably true, a small percentage are demonstrably false, and the vast majority are undetermined.

                Studies of the sort report the prevalence rate as the number of demonstrably false accusations (see here, for example.).

                Of course, only about 2% of accusations result in a conviction, so you could just as easily say that 98% of accusations are false. But that would be bullshit too.

                1. That doesn’t seem to contradict “it is far more likely that troubling behavior will go unreported than that someone will make a false report.”

                  1. It doesn’t. In fact, it says almost nothing about the prevalence of false reports.

                    As I said, the claims that false accusations are rare are not supported by the data.

                    I didn’t say that they are contradicted by the data. You understand the difference, right?

                    1. The comment being debated is “it is far more likely that troubling behavior will go unreported than that someone will make a false report.” Your study doesn’t show that that isn’t supported by the data.

                    2. “The comment being debated is “it is far more likely that troubling behavior will go unreported than that someone will make a false report.””

                      Sigh. The comments being debated include whether or not “rarely” and not “sometimes” is a correct answer to the question, “How common are false accusations?”

                      As I said, the study I linked to was an example of how studies falsely claim a low prevalence rate for false accusations. All of the studies I’ve seen do that, and we are not privy to the particular studies at issue here.

                    3. 6% seems rare to me, those are the only ones that can be concluded to be false.

                    4. “6% seems rare to me, those are the only ones that can be concluded to be false.”

                      Correct. But the others can’t be concluded to be true, either.

                      The data in the study is equally consistent with false accusations being quite rare, or frighteningly common.

                      All the studies I’ve seen purporting to show that false accusations are rare are like that.

                    5. I get what you’re saying, that most cannot be proven true either. But it’s still correct, if a bit misleading maybe to state in a vacuum, to say that (under what we know) false reports are rare. It might be better said that ‘reports that we know are false are rare’ but you’re rarely (no pun intended) going to get that kind of preciseness in a training module (especially one that is almost certainly designed to really just get people to take allegations very seriously).

                    6. The problem is that “reports that we know are false are not rare” when compared to the number of reports that we know are true. Confirmed false reports only appear rare when they are compared to the much larger number of reports where the truth or falsity is never determined.

                    7. “The problem is that “reports that we know are false are not rare” when compared to the number of reports that we know are true.”

                      That is incorrect, and if it were correct, it would be irrelevant. According to RAINN only about 2% of reported sexual assaults lead to felony convictions, significantly less than the approximately 5% that most studies say are known to be false.

                      And even if it were true, extrapolating across the unknows would require assuming that we discover false reports at the same rate that we discover true reports. That assumption has no basis, especially when we don’t have the same methodology for discovering true reports, etc.

                    8. “But it’s still correct, if a bit misleading maybe to state in a vacuum, to say that (under what we know) false reports are rare.”

                      No more so than to say that, under what we know, true reports are rare (since few reports lead to convictions.) The correct thing to say is that we have no idea how rare they are.

          2. QA: “Trick” of course means some element of deception. Yeah, it’s a common technique (Fauci and the masks is now the classic example) but even if your own ethincs believe the ends justify the means, as a practical matter it often backfires in the long run. Fauci ended up having to contradict himself later and ended up losing a lot of trust.

            The university could end up having to reverse their position. For example, suppose a conservative troll decided to flood their complaint processing system with tendentious or outright fake claims.

            1. It’s not really deception is it? If a PSA says ‘it’s cool to buckle your seat belt according to a survey’ when what it wants to get across is ‘buckle your seat belt to save lives and injuries’ is it a ‘trick’ or a use of psychology in advertising?

              1. “Cool” is clearly stating an opinion so not deception. And for the record, I’d wouldn’t think it was a good idea for a university training to have answers “(a) cool (b) kind of square (c) definitely unhip” on an exam if there were consequences, even minor ones like denial of certification to adjudicate complaints, for giving the undesired answer.

                Taking a position that something is “rare” is deception if you yourself don’t really believe it’s rare, but just said it to elicit the behavior you want. Just to be clear, the person who made the quiz very likely really believed it, so not deception. However, you used the word “trick”, which is defined as “a cunning or skillful act or scheme intended to deceive or outwit someone.”

                1. 1. The first paragraph is, no offense, pedantic. If you don’t like the ‘cool’ language many other examples come to mind: a major strategy in behavioral campaigns is to illustrate something as popular, for example an anti-smoking campaign might just say ‘81% of your peers say no to smoking.’ The campaign doesn’t really want you to do what’s popular so much as it wants you to not smoke for health or insurance reasons, I don’t think it’s *deceptive* though to couch the campaign in the way I mentioned.
                  2. Trick can also be used to mean something like ‘you can’t open that? Here let me show you a little trick about how to do that.’ That’s how I meant it, and again I don’t think deception is necessarily involved in that.

      2. “It was a stupid way of making an important organizational point:”
        I’d have said that it was an ineffective way to make that point.
        If you want people to investigate you need to make that obligation very clear.
        As in you MUST report to HR, and you must investigate, etc.. OR you will not be supported by this university in any related litigation or criminal investigation

      3. No. Because the correct thing is to understand that a lot of accusations are pure garbage, often made for the purpose of causing unjustified harm to the target of the accusation, and therefore you should never start by assuming guilt.

        Here, let’s turn this around:

        What % of black males accused of a crime of violence end up convicted of something because of the charge?

        Now, what would you think of “training” that asked “How Often Do You Think People Make False criminal Accusations against black males”, and required you to answer “Rarely” in order to continue with the training?

        If your answer is “the purpose of this training is to push my ideology, and therefore anything that advances that goal is good. But anything that harms my ideology is bad. Principles are unimportant, only results matter” (which is what you appear to be saying), then my response is FOAD

  6. In my own experience, if you are seeking a lie, ask about sex or money.

  7. This “training” is given to people adjudicating sexual misconduct claims. I wonder if accused students have to given the opportunity to rebut this propaganda?

  8. Would you feel the same way if the options were “Always”, “Sometimes”, and “Never”?

    1. “Would you feel the same way if the options were “Always”, “Sometimes”, and “Never”?”

      Based on the principle outlined in the post, the answer would seem to be “no”.

      “But especially in a university, which rightly protects—and indeed demands—intellectual independence and honesty in its faculty, such questions shouldn’t require faculty members to give answers that they credibly think are wrong; nor should they turn on vague terms such as “sometimes” or “rarely.””

      It’s hard to imagine anyone credibly thinking “Sometimes” is wrong, or “Always” or “Never” are correct.

  9. I wander from whose perspective you would take the correct answer. Judging by women I’ve known and by reports of harassment I’ve seeen individual women have varying level of what constitutes sexual harassment. Some women may consider an comment on their appearance to be harassment some women will participate in rauncy discussions which other might consider toxic. Some men may have different perceptions of what constitutes acceptable contact in individual circumstances. It is common in some circles to hug and kiss women who you are on close personal terms with, other women may have different habits.

  10. “I am a tenured faculty member at a public university in the United States, not the Soviet Union.”

    Signed, Abe Simpson

    PS I am not a crank

    1. ““I am a tenured faculty member at a public university in the United States, not the Soviet Union.””

      Would you think he (or she) was a crank if the required answer was, “almost always”?

      1. Anyone who compared being ask to answer a question in a training online module in a way they don’t like to the Soviet Union is a crank. I personally know people from there who found relatives dead from the KGB when they went to visit them. It’s stupid hyperbole that dishonors the actual victims of that wretched system.

        1. Actually, they are comparing being required by a public institution to affirm that most allegations of misconduct are correct. That sounds pretty soviet-like. It wasn’t all KGB-torture, alot of it was petty crap like that.

          1. “That sounds pretty soviet-like.”

            That’s like saying Jimmy’s little sister hit him, that sounds pretty abusive home-like.

            It’s silly hyperbole and totally unnecessary to his point.

    2. Or a cat. Presumably.

  11. Also, ‘sometimes’ strikes me as a bad survey answer generally. It’s understood quite differently by different people. To some it means ‘common enough’ to others ‘once in a while.’

  12. Look at military numbers on false or unsubstantiated claims of sexual violence. They are around 40%.

    When you could actually study this without fear of being cancelled it comes close to those numbers.

    I suspect the real answer is not “rarely” because of the incentives we give to people who complain of such and probably at least “sometimes” if not a higher frequency.

    1. “false or unsubstantiated claims”

      That’s like saying “30+ points or double digit points games”

      1. Not really. It does require someone to think that at least some of the “unsubstantiated” claims are also false accusations (or at least in part false). Even if that gets you to say 20% that is still a stark reality.

        If any number suggested say one of out five black people accused of a crime are not guilty and it was most likely a false accusation, well, I think you know what the reaction would be….

        1. No, really. A false accusation strikes me as more like a 30+ point night, something remarkable (because to my knowledge false accusations for most crimes are not high), while ‘unsubstantiated,’ well, of course in this kind of thing that’s going to be quite high whatever the reality is (some crimes even if they did happen a lot are going to be very hard to substantiate).

          1. I think you would care more if it were not men largely bearing the brunt of this injustice….

      2. No, it’s not. Draw a Vennn diagram, it will make it clear for you

      3. “false or unsubstantiated claims”
        That’s like saying “30+ points or double digit points games”

        No. Because innocent until proven guilty means that “unsubstantiated” == “false” == “not guilty”.

        And if you don’t have “innocent until proven guilty”, you’re a wretched monster

  13. The seminal late 70s medical novel, The House of God, listed the Rules of the House of God. The most important one is rule no 8, “They can always hurt you more.” This is just another example of that rule.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_House_of_God#Laws_of_the_House_of_God

  14. Real life often presents messier facts: a sexual harassment may start with several claims about various incidents, often including one that occurred with only two people present in an enclosed space, and then add allegations as things proceed. It is often the case that at least some of the allegations are false, and rarely the case that all of them are false.

  15. It is more than vague. Sometimes and rarely are synonyms. They belong to a large class of quantifying adjectives that attempt to describe the undefined territory between always and never.

    One person’s “little bit” actually be more than another person’s almost “a whole lot”.

    I recommend that all such words be replaced with numeric estimates expressed in percent. Even if we have no basis for our guesses, it becomes clear that my guess of 80% is more than your guess of 20%. With words “a lot” and “a little”, we don’t even have that clarity.

  16. “How often do you think people make false allegations?”

    To whom? The question didn’t ask how frequently people make false allegations to the police, or to other governmental officials, or to other authorities (like bosses). Does making false allegations in a bar to a friend (or stranger) count for purposes of answering the question? If so, how can anyone really know the answer?

    Also, does context make clear what the false allegations are about? Rape, sexual assault, improper propositioning?

  17. Slightly OT, but have any of you seen a rise in purely “pro forma” allegations of retaliation or discrimination, where there isn’t even a seriously maintained pretense that it’s true? The openly stated objective is to trigger legally mandated process and to invoke whistleblower protections, in order to hold up some unwelcome project or policy change. To avoid “hurting” anyone, the allegations usually don’t name a specific perpetrator, which of course means nothing happens in the long run and no one can file a countercomplaint, but they do achieve the desired delay or abandonment of whatever they didn’t like.

    We have (in my estimate) very few “classic” false allegations of rape, harassment etc, but the pretend allegations are almost routine now for some people. You don’t like being assigned to an early morning class, you file, the schedule gets frozen and you’re out of the morning class until the process clocks out, by which time it’s too late.

    1. If you were to say that “false” includes “exaggerated” the answer might even rise to frequently

  18. Most successful students learn early on that professors (especially law school professors) expect their opinions to be regurgitated back on the exam. I wonder if the subject of this article article uses the same rigor on his exam that he demands on some stupid training module.

  19. What is the percentage when “rarely” becomes “sometimes”?

    The test is pseudoscience nonsense.

    1. The goal is to eviscerate the idea it’s remotely common.

      That seems to be noble, but its purpose is to allow the ignoring of due process?

      1. What is “noble” about saying “you should treat all accused as guilty unless and until they prove their innocence. And maybe not even then”?

        The easier it is to make a false charge, the more false charges you’ll get. There’s nothing noble about encouraging false charges

  20. Reminds me of a sexual harassment training module that informed me I should not invite black women on dates for fried chicken and watermelon.

  21. In regards to sexual assault 50%

  22. There is a lot of talk about measurment issues, which are true. But even more importantly many times a claim of harassment and/or discrimination is not a factual question. When opinion and subjectivity are major components of determining whether a claim is false, true, or other then incidence of each possibility is also subjective and more a matter of opinion than fact. Whether a specific event occurred is factual. Whether is it is harassment or discrimination is not always, and I would say most of the time isn’t.

  23. At my university I hear that the Title IX office gets many groundless accusations. They get a lot of anonymous ones and don’t even open a file. If it’s not anonymous, they routinely open an investigation, but they say they often close them exonerating the accused.

  24. The correct answer to this indoctrination quiz is “fuck you, I’m not playing along with this bullshit.”

    -jcr

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