Friday, February 08, 2019

Fairfax v Kavanaugh

One point I have not seen discussed in comparisons between Vanessa Tyson's accusation of Justin Fairfax and Christine Ford's of Brett Kavanaugh is the reason that the more recent accusation is also much more likely to be true. 

For any given woman to invent such a story is quite unlikely. That out of a thousand women with both opportunity and motive at least one would do so is not. There were hundreds, probably thousands, of women who could have told the same story that Christine Blasey Ford did tell—any who, in high school or college, lived close enough to Kavanaugh to have gone out with him or attended a party at which he was present. Any of them who were politically left of center had a reason to invent such a story, since even before the accusation Kavanaugh was being ferociously attacked for his predicted effect on the court. 

Fairfax has admitted a sexual encounter with Vanessa Tyson, the first of his accusers. That drastically reduces the number of women in an equally good position to make such an accusation. Further, there is no obvious reason why Tyson, or anyone else in a similar position, would want to invent such a story—Fairfax is not a conservative Supreme Court candidate or anything similar. Instead of hundreds or thousands of potential accusers with both opportunity and motive, we have perhaps none, perhaps two or three. That makes the odds that the story is an invented one a great deal lower.


Attempting to be a Skeptical Thinker said...

While everyone is entitled to due process rights, I am thoroughly enjoying the schadenfreude.

Stephen Bloch said...

I'm not convinced that there's much more motive in the Kavanaugh case than in the Fairfax case. They're both political figures, and although Kavanaugh was at the Federal level while Fairfax is at the State level, the political value of damaging either one's political career is substantial (considering that the other two top Democrats in Virginia's executive branch are undergoing scandals at the exact same time). The direct value to Republicans of taking over the Virginia Governor's Mansion for a year or two is certainly less than the direct value of a SCOTUS seat that could last decades, but the value to Republicans of saying "see, both parties have sexual predators [and racists], it's not just Republicans" before the 2020 elections is substantial too, considering that the presumed top of the ticket is widely considered a sexual predator and racist.

But value matters less in such decisions than expected value, value times probability. The probability of the Blasey-Ford allegations actually blocking Kavanaugh's nomination was always extremely slim: (a) a somewhat similar allegation coming at a similar point in the process didn't block Clarence Thomas's nomination, and (b) the Republicans held a majority in the Senate, they had already disabled the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees, and the Senate is more partisan than thirty years ago so they could expect a high degree of partisan unity on the vote. In the Fairfax case, by contrast, (a) he's a Democrat, and Democrats in recent years are much more willing to condemn Democrats accused of scandal than Republicans are to condemn Republicans similarly accused, and (b) his fate was in the hands not of 51 Senators but of the court of public opinion, which changes much more quickly and unpredictably.

As for the number of women with the opportunity to make such an allegation, you're right that the universe of women Kavanaugh knew well enough for them to plausibly be at the same party in high school or college is much larger than the universe of women with whom Fairfax admits to having a "sexual encounter". But if Fairfax hadn't admitted that, the latter would become the universe of women Fairfax knew well enough for them to plausibly be at the same convention or conference, a similar number to the Kavanaugh case. In other words, the difference in the calculation is under the control of the accused: if the accused admits to some connection, the number of potential accusers is much smaller and (by your reasoning) the credibility of each much higher than if the accused stonewalls and doesn't admit to anything.

Which is not to say I find Tyson's allegations implausible: sexual encounters that one party (usually male) perceives consent while the other (usually female) perceives coercion or force are quite common (see this blog post). But I find Blasey-Ford's also very plausible: sexual encounters that one party (known to be a heavy drinker at the time) doesn't remember are also quite common. If I had to place a bet, it would be that both allegations are true.

David Friedman said...


Tyson specified where and when it happened, so if there was no encounter at all Fairfax might well have been able to prove it. Presumably that's part of the reason he admitted the encounter.

Further, it happened at a Democratic convention, unless I'm confused on the story, so Tyson is presumably a fellow Democrat, whereas Ford was a Democrat accusing a Republican. And in the Kavanaugh case, there was a very high profile controversy, with lots of people left of center attacking the Kavanaugh nomination in strong terms, so a large number of people with a strong reason to invent such a story.

My guess is that Fairfax is guilty. I don't have any strong opinion on Kavanaugh--Ford's story doesn't sound wildly implausible, but, for the reason I described, such a story being entirely bogus also doesn't seem implausible. Were potential accusers limited to those "Kavanaugh knew well enough for them to plausibly be at the same party"? I don't remember any evidence that Kavanaugh knew Ford at all, merely that she lived in the same general area and so could have attended a party at which he was present. That would fit a lot of women.

TheVidra said...

"For any given woman to invent such a story is quite unlikely." Ha, ha.
Wikipedia has a list of studies on the subject, the majority of them calculate the prevalence of false accusations of rape at over 10%, one as high as 90%.

Modern Mugwump said...

@TheVidra, that's irrelevant, as most women don't make rape accusations.