The Guardian’s self-guiding penis

It’s odd how even Guardianistas, who claim to revile the Mail, believe what it says and allow it to set their agenda. Of all the ignorant attacks on me one of the classics was a bizarre column in The Guardian by Martin Robbins who describes himself as a science writer but who does, or did, no original research and seems led by the nose by the confections of the Mail on Sunday.

He had plainly not troubled to read the book, which is odd for a man who claims to be an exposer of pseudoscience. He did not even bother to look me up online, in which case he might have discovered that I have been doing twenty years what he merely claims to do as a campaigner for good science, as a member of the Committee on Public Understanding of Science, twice chair of the Science Book Prize, Guest Director of the Cheltenham Science Festival, President of the quack-busting charity HealthWatch and a Board member of the leading organisation for tackling scientific myths, Sense About Science. Nor did he bother to look at the website devoted to the book which lists thousands of references on which each assertion in the book is based. Instead he opines that any ‘truths’ in the book had been, ‘learned from his career as a television presenter’.

Oh dear. His whole article is essentially a rant. He airily criticises my, ‘clumsy use of statistics to suggest that men are equal victims of domestic violence,’ without explaining why the several pages of evidence I cite is in any way wanting of rigour or precision. Presumably he was in too much of a hurry to check.

He says the book claims ‘provocative clothing’ is a cause of rape when in fact, of course, it says no such thing. In fact it draws almost the opposite conclusion pointing out that, despite the routine nature of nights on the binge, so-called stranger rapes are relatively rare.

He too recognises that, ‘The average rapist is not a stranger in a ski mask, hiding in the bushes.’

But he then seeks to ridicule me for wondering whether formal prosecution is always the most rational way to deal with rape:  ‘Given what we know about predatory behaviour, the grooming and manipulation of victims, and the ability of serial rapists to remain undetected, it’s one of the most stupid questions you could possibly ask.’

Excuse me, didn’t he just concede that the average rapist is not a stranger, but is known to the victim? This is why it is agonisingly hard, often prohibitively hard, for victims to go into a public court to air the matter. And this is why so many cases lack the sort of evidence that is likely to persuade a jury to convict. And this is why, if courts are our only answer, so many women are failed by our approach.

Mr Robbins then attributes a whole range of motives to rapists which are largely a fantasy on his part, applicable only a small cohort of offenders, before triumphantly, but idiotically, suggesting that I am proposing men cannot help themselves -  in what he calls the myth of the self-guiding penis. I make precisely and emphatically the opposite case.

In doing so I have been supported by many rape victims, and by my first critic – a brilliant rape victim support worker from Merseyside who was recruited to attack me by the Mail but who, having read the book, now endorses it.

If there is really a self-guiding penis out there Martin Robbins might be it.

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