Many of Lublin's inhabitants live in blocks of edible Lego.

So. Poland again. Only this time, leaving the Warsaw Arrivals lounge I turned east instead of west to find myself confronted with two guys holding up a sign that reads Giant Squid.

Already I like the place.

This gory effigy of a tortured murder victim hangs over my door to bring me comfort and joy.

They put me in — well, a monastery, maybe. At least it’s attached to a church of some kind, and skeletal vampiric old men in dark robes with white collars glide along the halls, which are utterly dark if you get in after nine. There is a tiny bloody man hanging on a cross over my door, and a much larger bloody man hanging on another much-larger cross downstairs in this weird hall where people in vestments throw water on passers-by. If it’s not a religious institution of some kind, it’s the weirdest Motel Six I’ve ever been in.

After two world wars and a couple millenia of violent history, Lublin evidently doesn't have enough bombed-out ruins. So they built these fake ones as a tourist attraction.










I wasn’t in there very much, though. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was sight-seeing; when I wasn’t sight-seeing, I was in one of a seemingly endless series of pubs.

(They have many pubs in Lublin: Irish, Czech, German and French — pretty much every variety of pub except for Polish. Apparently there are no Polish pubs.) When I wasn’t in a pub, I was in a bookstore straight out of a David Lynch movie, and when I wasn’t in Lublin I was in City 17. And when I wasn’t in any of those places, I was—


Due to a Soviet-era lack of construction materials, many of Lublin's buildings are made of recycled wedding-cake icing.


One of Lublin's most popular tourist sites, this is where Gordon Freeman was first ambushed by the Combine.


This traditional Polish meal consists of stewed pork poured over the femurs of three-month-old babies.

"And that's the gibbet where we suspend the eviscerated remains of dinner guests who fail to chug a pint of homebrew without taking a breath." (Photo by Łukas Federowicz)

Click on this image for a dream sequence from "Twin Peaks". Or maybe "Blue Velvet".


Oh, right. The con.

The thing is, despite the fact that Poland’s surface area is small enough to hide under a cheese scone, it has a population comparable to Canada’s and cons that are — well, this one was thousands strong, and I’m told that it’s not the biggest one over there. The place was jammed. As in Zielona Góra, I didn’t sit on any panels — that whole language thing, you know. I did do a Q&A that lasted a solid two hours, and fielded some surprisingly complex questions. (One soft-spoken lady in the back row wanted to know if Blindsight was fundamentally solipsistic; obviously solipsistic is one of those Polish words for which there is no English translation.) I signed books until my fingers fell off. I introduced a few worthy Poles to the Paws of Power chant, and to the concept of the Life Sausage.   I think there was another iteration of that Blindsight LARP I missed at Bachanalia Fantastyczne, and since I’d promised to catch it this time around I headed out to the high school where it was scheduled; but all the players had apparently slept in, and I had to leave to give my own talk before I could find out whether they’d ever roused themselves.  I presented an updated version of last month’s SpecFic Colloquium speech, tarted up with some nifty new references to ventromedial cortical lesions and Anton-Babinsky syndrome. I fucked up the ending, though; lost track of time and had to blow through the last couple of pages in a panicked rush. I bought a couple of PedoBear t-shirts for the stepdaughters (and how come I had to travel all the way to Europe to find out about Pedo Bear in the first place? How can I have fallen so out of touch with my inner child?).

Apparently certain Japanese males sleep with body pillows like these. Some have even married them.


These people wanted my autograph. Either that or they were organizing a book-burning.

Right to left: Andrzej; Dominika; Natalie the Pynchon-puncher.

Left to Right: Beata; me; Łukasz 

This is a cat that requires a forklift for locomotion. This is a tankard that I somehow managed to chug in one take. Andrjez's dad was so impressed he let me take it home.

Of course, none of this conveys much of the actual experience, because none of it mentions the actual people involved; and the actual people were pretty awesome. There was Andrzej and Dominika, the forces behind ArsMachina and the publishers of the rifters books in Poland (Dominika has got to be one of the most insanely thorough translators I have ever encountered). There was Łukasz and Beata: graphics-designer-with-a-law-degree and disillusioned-insurrectionist-grad-student/teacher respectively, who showed me the sights and got me where I needed to be even after their car broke down. There was Natalie the American expat, who loves Thomas Pynchon so much she wanted to punch him in the fucking mouth after finishing The Crying of Lot 49; Piotr and Adam, who argued with me about free will vs. agency (Adam is still arguing, but I have to finish this blog post before I answer my e-mails); Daniel, who looks like Doogie Howser MD and speaks better English than I do (normally this would be a testament to his ESL teacher, except that teacher is Natalie and he also speaks better English than she does). There were at least a dozen others whose names I never learned, have since forgotten, or am simply unable to pronounce. (That last thing was a recurring problem. I realized after a couple of days that you pronounce “Łukas” like the first syllable of “Wookie” followed by the surname of the science officer from “Alien”; but I always mumbled “Andrzej” and “Beata” to avoid embarrassment). There were Andrzej’s parents for Chrissakes, who had a bunch of us over for a 213-course dinner; an orange cat named Garfield, who all-too-obviously lived in a home where 213-course meals were the norm. Andrzej’s folks didn’t speak English but his dad was fluent in that lingua franca in which the Polish people are so very proficient: I’d sampled home-made wine and mead previously, but the moonshine was a new experience. You know how, when you have a head cold, you snort Otravin up your nostrils and can feel that hydrochloric acid eating away at the mucous in your head,  feel that ecstatic corrosion as your sinuses clear?

Now imagine that happening to your whole body.

Also there was beer, served in what was either a hollowed-out dragon claw or one of the boots those dwarfs danced around in during Spinal Tap’s iconic performance of “Stonehenge”. I participated in the traditional Polish Rite Of Manhood in which you chug a pint while a marmalade cat kneads your genitals.

So, yeah. All in all, another huge blast. About the only downer was having to leave; that, and forgetting my lens cap in the bar and twenty dollars worth of subway tokens behind in my cell.

Hopefully I can head back before too long and retrieve them.


Last time I did this was with my former accountant, at his wedding. I have no idea who took the picture; it was just there in the card when I got home.

I have no idea who this person is.


This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday November 16 2011at 08:11 pm , filed under On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

43 Responses to “Falkon.”

  1. Huh. I didn’t realize that the Touhou Project was that popular in Poland, let alone in body pillow form.

  2. Hi, here is the lady who spoke up about taxol and Taxus baccata and asked about “The Abyss”. We did want to organize a panel with you during the con, but then some pessimist decided it would not work and the idea was abandoned. Hopefully this was not your last visit to Poland :)

    By the way – in Lublin we not only have edible Lego houses, but also insect buses with long antennae :) And haven’t you tried the traditional Polish vampire soup, a.k.a. barszcz czerwony?

  3. Nice re-cap; thanks!

  4. Peter, I suspect that you’d know more about Pedo Bear if you spent more time on 4chan. Here’s the reference page from the former Encyclopedia Dramatica: http://ohinternet.com/Pedobear

    I should mention of course that probably someone will send me nasty mail over mentioning 4chan to you, as you will probably visit it and wind up never being heard from again. It’s rather an interesting cross between the nonsentient high-achievement side of the argument and the solipsism side of the argument. Especially avoid “bchan” and the “btards”. Or you’ll fall right over the edge and vanish from our continuum. Cheers,

  5. I was in Warsaw a couple years ago and loved it. I was expecting soviet era buildings, Russian cars and frowning people. Stereotypes may save time but they can sometimes be completely wrong.

    I found that I got along with just a couple words of Polish “piwo proszę”.

  6. Could you please stop offending our religious feelings, laughing from our history and implying the inhabitants of Poland are all either morons or pedofiles? Thank you in advance.

  7. @ Promyk:

    You forgot “cannibals”.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve implied nothing about the intelligence or sexual proclivities of the Polish people as a whole (although I’ll grant you that your beloved Catholic Church does have a somewhat higher incidence of child rape than other professional groups such as, say, dentists or biologists); if you can’t deal with the empirical fact that I encountered my first Pedobear t-shirt in Lublin, that’s not my problem. And I am unlikely to ever stop offending your religious feelings, on the grounds that — in addition to the aforementioned child-rapery thing — any institution that preaches the existence of an invisible omnipotent sky fairy who sends you to Space Disneyland when you die is inherently delusional. And moronic.

    Sorry, but really. We are an evidence-based lot here. You can bring facts to the table, or rational arguments; fairy tales will be laughed off the board.

  8. Why don’t you just go back to prison with your pedobear shirts? Good bye I hope you never visit Poland again.

  9. Speaking of evidence, that is.

  10. Dear Peter,

    You must know the Poland not all like that. The Lublin special place. The Lublin people stupid. Dont think the Polish all like that when you see it. The Poland is the normal country too.

    Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz

  11. @Grzegorz,

    Not sure if you’re actually being serious here, but just in case: I like Poland, from what I’ve seen of it. Only been there twice, but the people I met were awesome both times. In terms of Lublin in particular, I have nothing but respect and affection for pretty much everyone I encountered there; not only were they uniformly intelligent, they also had well-developed senses of humor.

    This troll going by the name of “Promyk Nadzieji”, on the other hand, is a complete and utter douchebag.

  12. I fear snark humor doesn’t translate well across the language barrier! Or, hell, maybe it does.

    @ THomas Hardman – Disagree. Everyone should visit the btards, dip their toes into to the pool of teens photographing their genitalia and asking the group to rate them. Whenever I feel my will to live becoming too strong, I visit B chan. One day soon, these young people will be fixing out heart valves and changing our diapers. DENTURES OR GET THE FUCK OUT. Etc.

    Otoh, the B chan party is officially over. How do I know? I heard reference to it on NPR the other day, which means the gwown-ups know about it, which means it is about to go out of style faster than poop shoots through a goose. Nothing de-coolifies something better than clueless adults finding out about it.

    And by clueless adults, I mean you, me, and most everyone here. The pedos don’t count. :)

  13. @ Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz. That is an awesome-looking name. You could slice bread with that thang.

  14. Snark humor translates just fine, judging by the number of “likes” the facebook link to this post has generated among Lublinites. “Promyk Nadzieji” translates as “Bring Hope”, though, so I’m guessing — based on this comment stream and a bunch of invective the same person posted over at polter.pl until a couple of other people told him/her to stfu — that we’re just dealing with another dour braindead biblethumper.

  15. So you’re voting genuine understanding of what you said, but dislike of the Catholicism remarks or maybe of the dark absurdism. Could be. Edible Lego and wedding cake buildings is pretty absurdist, and not eveyone is a fan of that kind of observational humor. And Catholicism snark is catnip for this kind of commentor, if that is in fact the case. Were you offended by his comment?

  16. You mean the one above, or the comments over at http://ksiazki.polter.pl (which, I notice, seem to have suddenly vanished from the record)? In either case, yeah I was offended; because I like the people I met over there, and whether this asshole was Catholic, atheist, or Trekkie, there is no way a reasonable person could claim that I implied all Poles were “morons or pedofiles”(sic).

    Why do you assume the troll was male?

  17. That’s interesting that the vampiric old men posted cruciform objects around their dwelling. They must have been vampires of another sort. Unless, someone put it in your room to protect you from them.

  18. Why do you assume the troll was male?

    Good question. Hm. As bookend to you? Subconscious sexism? Does Promyk’s way of writing feel male, maybe?

    Ah. How about: I have, while working today, had Lance Henriksen on headphones in an interview. With him rapped around my head, the entire universe goes extremely male. His voice is so extreme, it has its own smell.

  19. Obvious polish trolls is so obvious. If you wanna know how to spell “Grzegorz Brzeczyszkiewicz” check this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftrqO-jkMpE

  20. Word “Promyk” is male in Polish :)
    But troll made awful spelling mistake so I think it would be better for him (or her…) to learn Polish before offending people in the name of Poles 😛

    Peter, I hope you will visit us again!

    Cranberry (“who obviously has someting to hide”, as you wrote on my “Blindsight” :) )

  21. (Lol)

    Only a Canadian can say that Poland is geographically small… eight times the size of the arsehole of Europe, four times larger than Czechia, and almost as as large as Germany.

  22. #Cranberry: (“who obviously has someting to hide”, as you wrote on my “Blindsight” :) )

    He wrote “To Bastien (Yeah right)” in mine. Apparently my name just isn’t convincingly real in a sci-fi convention context. 😉

  23. @CranberryWord “Promyk” is male in Polish Hee hee. Google Translate, evil machine that it is, translates it as “ray,” whatever the hell that means. :)

    I am tending to agree with Ar about the trollness. I checked out the link Peter mentions where the offending remarks have been removed and the surrounding remaining comments are troll advisories?

  24. @Peter Watts:

    In one of the comments, you wrote that the Roman Catholic clergy (I assume you only had the clergy in mind) have a higher incidence of child rape than some other groups. Would you be able to share the source of that information?

    Although I consider myself to be a member of the Church, I have no objections against learning unpleasant facts about it. However, the data I have encountered so far have been either narrow in scope (for instance, referring to the United States only) or methodologically disappointing, if not both. I hope you may link me to more reliable information.

    Besides, your post is great, I really liked the sarcasm in it (especially the skeletal vampiric part). I am glad you enjoyed your stay in Poland, too!

    Best regards,
    Stanley, or a laughed off member of an institution that is both delusional and moronic 😉

  25. Got to say that interpreter looks fine even when all packed up against the cold.

  26. So, do you like Zubr beer? It’s a bestseller around here 😉

  27. I can stand that some people like our precious “Promyk…” (“Ray of Hope” – for salvation I guess, unless hoping for new medicines) cannot understand jokes or irony but “Grzegorz B…” is much more frustrating. I’m glad you liked Poland and hope that you will not be forced to explain your jokes again.

  28. @Stanislaw,

    Wikipedia has a brief (and, it claims, incomplete) list that goes on forever under the heading “Roman Catholic sex abuse cases by country“; I count 26 countries there (including the US, but the Vatican is nothing if not multinational). That links to a variety of other articles like “Catholic Sex Abuse Cases” and “Abuse by Members of Roman Catholic Orders”, not to mention an endless litany of articles about specific cases. In contrast, looking up “Sex abuse by dentists” or “sex abuse by biologist” gets me zero hits.

    You may find those cited reports “methodologically disappointing”, but it’s very difficult to acquire unbiased data when the Catholic hierarchy, from top to bottom, has so consistently covered up, misplaced, or destroyed evidence of its crimes, not to mention protecting and reassigning the rapists in their midst while allowing them to continue peddling their wares in new communities. If you’re not aware of such cases, Google is your friend. It certainly isn’t your church’s, though.

  29. “Catholic priests are men who are called Father by everybody, except their children, who can only call them uncle,” (Adrianna Alsworth). Seems the the Catholic Church maybe is sanctimonious in this point, too: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/hundreds-of-catholic-clergy-in-secret-liaisons-1364647.html
    Apropos dentist & sex abuse — really zero? Dentists have easy access to anaesthetics …

  30. @Peter Watts

    Thank you for your answer. I resorted to Wikipedia before writing my comment, I can realize now that I should have mentioned this (sorry!).

    Obviously, there are a lot of data concerning various cases of child rape or other kinds of child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. However selective or methodologically disappointing they may be, they still bear testimony to a great number of atrocities that should never have taken place. Although some of the Church officials have attempted to change this situation (the most recent example that comes to my mind is Charles Scicluna’s), what they did is not enough.

    Still, I am surprised at your suggestion that the facts you mentioned about Google’s search engine may provide us with answers concerning the relative incidence of child rape. To me, you are a scientist with admirable knowledge (this is not irony, nor is it flattery; this is just a part of my argument). I therefore hope we may agree that, scientifically speaking, the data you have hinted at cannot suffice to justify a comparison between Catholic clergy and dentists or biologists. We could probably both name a number of reasons why the amount of publicity received by a group of people does not have to be proportional to the amount of evil they have done.

    I would like to emphasize that I am not defending the clergymen who committed child rape or those who helped them avoit the legal responsiblity for that. Nor am I indifferent to these facts as a Catholic. The only point that I am trying to make is that it is very difficult to make an informed statement about the incidence of various forms of child abuse in the clergy as related to the analogous acts in other groups. One of the reasons is the destruction of evidence that you mentioned but there are other reasons, too (some definitely unsettling for a Catholic, some probably not). I am not happy about this lack of information since I would simply like to know the truth, or whatever approximation of the truth there is to have.

    I suppose this should be all that I will say here. I certainly would not want this topic to dominate the comments under your post. So, unless you would prefer me to do otherwise, I conlude with thanking you for the conversation and expressing the hope that this is indeed no the last time we have seen you in Poland.

    With regards,
    Stanislaw Krawczyk

  31. Wow, sense-of-humour by-passes or what!

    I guess some posters here could do with researching Operation Reinhardt in Poland to get some sense of perspective, but then the guys who started that thought god was on their side too.

  32. Awesome post. Nice.

    Did you drink any Zubrowka yet? Admittedly not the full body experience of moonshine, unless you count feeling like a very large gum eraser a full body experience.

    There is a demoparty called Riverwash I keep thinking about going to (in a different part of Poland). I think your description of Poland just convinced me to go, despite other peoples’ descriptions of how a common dish eaten at said demoparty includes lard on bread.

    Perhaps I should see if I can find a Polish demopartuy near in time to any Polish sf cons and go . . . ( :

    ( I wish there was a teleporter, because then I could attend Eastercon (UK) and Revision (DE) simultaneously.
    My liver might explode, however. )

  33. Hi Stanislaw,

    We could probably both name a number of reasons why the amount of publicity received by a group of people does not have to be proportional to the amount of evil they have done.

    That’s true — but in the case of the church every potential confound I can think of would result in an underestimate of Catholic abuse compared to other groups. The enormous influence the church has traditionally wielded in the community has made it relatively immune both to accusation and prosecution (for example, according to a couple of Lublinites I met at Falkon, the Catholic church in Poland still enjoys so much esteem that people still tend to side reflexively with the church against anyone who levels accusations of abuse). Coverups and reluctance to prosecute are endemic and well-documented.

    In contrast, biologists and dentists don’t have anywhere near that amount of societal influence; there would be no institutional smokescreen protecting child rapists in that demographic. Or take atheists: statistically the most reviled and distrusted group in the USA, behind both gays and post-9/11 Muslims. Atheists get shat upon all the time by the American right; you can be damn sure that if there was any hint of endemic pedophilia among our kind, it would be getting shouted from the rooftops. And yet a Google search no more cursory than the one that turned up so many Catholic atrocities found only one instance tying child abuse to an atheist (and of course, the immediate follow-up question was “Are atheists child abusers?”)

    Put that together with the utterly insane demands that the Catholic church places upon its officials — nothing less than the total denial of perhaps the most basic mammalian drive that ever ever evolved on the planet — together with such ready and private access to the weak and vulnerable, and it would frankly be astonishing if an epidemic of abuse didn’t result.

    Ernest Rutherford famously said ““If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.” Statistics are great for teasing apart subtle effects; they’re not really necessary when you’re trying to determine whether a mountain collapsed in your back yard. The abuse of minors by the Catholic church is, at the very least, a pretty massive foothill.

    And don’t get me started on how those fuckers have fought against every scientific discovery from the heliocentric solar system to birth control…

  34. I don’t think priests should be imposing their sexual desires on children; priests are supposed to be caretakers, putting the safety and mental health of their charges first, above their own pleasures or compulsions.

    Otoh, I, too, won’t believe that there are are a higher percentage of active pedophiles in the priesthood than there are in other professions with access to and power over children until I see scientific papers, complete with experimental methodologies we can all inspect and the scientific community can review. Citations would be welcome at this stage.

    No offense, Dr. Watts, but I can’t at this point take Google or Wikipedia as evidence for prevalence of this kind of activity among priests vs. say, dentists or K-12 teachers. I’m not dismissing the severity of the crime, nor am I saying it is not possible that The Church is over-burdened with active pedophiles, but Stanislaw makes a valid point about facts-not-yet-proven. Where there’s smoke, there’s sometimes fire, but science doesn’t stop there.

    (Anyone reading this who was traumatized by a selfish adult for sexual reasons, I’m so sorry for your pain, and I’m not excusing them.)

  35. Problem with Polish catholic people is that, the 90% of them never touched the Bible (greatest horror book of all time by the way) and don’t know about church history. I was a catholic, but some day I started reading about church history, saints and stuff. And me says: “What the fuck?”. I was brainwashed. Then I realised one thing. Catholicism is an mythology created from other mythologies. And it’s hidden politheism (saints and angels borrowed functions from old gods). Well, here is a 10 rules of polish catholic priest:

    1. You don’t talk about your history
    2. You DON’T TALK about your history
    3. When someone says “I have a question…” say: “It’s incomprehensible”
    4. God is the money
    5. Atheists are less than trash
    6. Every criticism is an attack on church
    7. Lie as often as you can. Finally, someone will belive in it.
    8. Our company’s logo must be everywhere
    9. Tell people that without god they’re useless
    10. Tell people that full of love god will torture them forever if they don’t listen what he (priests) says

  36. Hello again!

    Firstly, I’m sorry for the delay.

    Secondly, I would say that there are certain strong negative images of the Church in Euro-American culture. Political plotting, inquisition, evil priests… All these images (sometimes based on real foundations, sometimes overselective or heavily exaggerated) may have influenced the fact that the issue of child abuse by Catholic clergy has received so much media coverage. Many other groups, it seems, have not been observed with similar attention. Under the very first link that I clicked, http://www.cpiu.us/statistics-2/, it is noted that “20% [of female rape victims under the age of 12 in 1991] were victimized by their fathers or step-fathers”. And yet I think I only ever heard once about the problem of pedophilia in American families. Perhaps there are some other relevant groups as well (of course, not necessarily dentists or biologists) that we are simply not aware of because they do not get appropriate coverage (although it may be different in the US and in Poland, where I live).

    This is not to suggest that the relative number of cases of pedophilia in the Church is necessarily overestimated. Nor do I intend to protect those responsible. My only aim here is to propose another possible confounding factor which might be taken into consideration.

    Thirdly, I would argue that relations between the Catholic Church and science have been complex. For instance, I have recently read a paper by a Polish philosopher, a fervent enemy of the Church, who claims that the realistic philosophy of Thomas Aquinas has laid very good foundations for the future developments of empirical science. Interestingly, it was only the deeply Christian European (and later Euro-American) civilization that was able to develop modern chemistry or physics; other cultural areas have never managed to do this. I don’t think that this development has always been vehemently opposed by the majority of the significant members of the Roman Catholic clergy. However, I would certainly agree that this is exactly what happened in too many cases – another reason to be critical of the Church.

    Fourthly, I regret that I will not be able to find the time to continue our conversation. Still, I hope it will help me in the future to be aware of the painful importance of the child abuse problem in my Church. Thank you very much for the discussion, good luck with all your writing, and as I said – I hope we will see you in Poland again! From now on, I will be a regular reader of your blog. :-)

    With regards,
    Stanislaw Krawczyk

  37. I can’t at this point take Google or Wikipedia as evidence for prevalence of this kind of activity among priests vs. say, dentists or K-12 teachers.

    This tactic reminds me of the tactic creationists use when debating–scatter shot questioning across multiple disciplines when the person being debated is on expert in a subset of them.

    At which point, the expert looks weak if the expert cannot answer every single question.

    I get tired of this when talking to family members about creationism or whatnot because it is no longer my hobby to do this homework for people. I will give pointers to wikipedia or the talk.origins archive and let them do their homework.

  38. Sheila says This tactic reminds me of the tactic creationists use when debating–scatter shot questioning across multiple disciplines when the person being debated is on expert in a subset of them.

    Pardon? ???

  39. Pardon? ???

    The analogy is that there is a discussion where some topic comes up where someone holds a position and the other person asks for proof on multiple aspects of the position. Eventually topic fatigue comes in to play and a body just wants to tell them to do their own search for proof.

    The analogy isn’t completely apt here because you and the other participants aren’t asking questions about multiple aspects of the topic, but you guys are asking for more than just a cursory search–and I don’t know if our host has topic fatigue on this.

    I do, so I was projecting.

  40. Oh, the light dawns – thanks! I commented because Dr. Watts’ usual procedure is to back up ideas with scientific journal articles or at least summaries of articles in reputable publications. In this case I was surprised that we were saying that we knew the prevalence of pedophilia behaviors in one vocation versus another, based on wikipedia or a general googling. This was really surprising to me.

  41. @Sheila:

    This tactic reminds me of the tactic creationists use when debating—scatter shot questioning across multiple disciplines when the person being debated is on expert in a subset of them.

    Yeah, Hljóðlegur does this sometimes — I’ve been corresponding with her for years, on and off, and her demands for rigor tend to be curiously inconsistent. (She once responded to one of Matt McCormick’s pro-atheism arguments with an ad hominem attack on the author — called him a “wanker” — without so much as a pretence of critiquing any of the actual arguments he made). These days I try not to engage so much, although sometimes the temptation grows overwhelming.

    Stanislaw, OTOH, raises similar points, without the whole passive-aggressive thing muddying the bargain. And the points themselves are, I think, worth a bit of hashing out. How exactly does one come up with rigorous data on a subject when the source of so much of that data is so obviously covering it up? (I trust no one here will deny the Church’s active role in such cover-ups; documentation for that is so easily obtained that any skeptic damn well can do their own homework on that score, and it would take about five minutes.)

    There’s a real paucity of data on the prevalence of child sexual abuse across professions; I’ve GScholared a shitload of academic references, and while there’s no shortage of papers on Child Sexual abuse by Clergy, Child Sexual Abuse by teachers, or general works on Child Sexual Abuse by generic “Professionals”, nobody seems to have done a wide-scale prevalence-by-profession study. I did encounter a 2004 paper by Sullivan and Beech in the Journal of Sexual Aggression (“A comparative study of demographic data relating to intra- and extra-familial child sexual abusers and professional perpetrators”) which does this on a smaller scale. They actually did break down perpetrators by profession, and they reported that about two thirds of them were clergy of some sort; only a quarter were teachers, and less than ten percent worked in Day Care Centers. It’s also interesting to note that while all the surveyed perps admitted to their offenses in the context of the study, 15 of them were never convicted, and 13 of those were — you guessed it — men of faith. Here’s a study in which clergy were both the vast majority of admitted offenders, and comprised virtually all of those who got away with it. So there’s that.

    But this was a self-selected group with a small sample size (41); one could argue that clergy as a group just felt a greater need to atone and therefore were disproportionately likely to step up and be counted. (Alternatively, one could argue that their participation in such groups was part of a “healing process” mandated to avoid incarceration; that would certainly be consistent with the fact that 87% of the got-away-with-its were of the faithy persuasion.) We should not be surprised that more comprehensive studies aren’t available; it would be impossible to acquire the requisite data without the cooperation of religious authorities, and even the most die-hard apologist for the funny-hat brigade can’t deny the systemic stonewalling built into the very fabric of such institutions.

    Stanislaw raises an interesting point with his link, and its concomitant stat on the high incidence of stepfathers in the whole sex-abuse picture. I find that correlation plausible for purely biological reasons (and I say this as a bemused stepfather myself) — but “stepfather” is not a profession, and we’re talking about professional correlates here. (Stepfathers as a group don’t portray themselves as exemplars of upstanding moral behavior either, which isn’t directly relevant to the current argument but the church’s claim to standard-bearing here should not go unremarked.) Also that stat hails from incarcerated populations — which is to say, those who didn’t get away with it, a group in which one might expect the clergy to be somewhat underrepresented.

    This may explain the conflict with US Dept. of Health and Human Services stats, which have shown consistently over the past several years that somewhere around 90% of parental abuse perpetrators are the victims biological parents; generally, <5% are step-parents. Whether this means anything depends, of course, on what proportion of families actually contain step-parents. If step-dads only comprise 1% of the dad population, then abuse by step-dads is still hugely disproportionate and you should all regard me with deep if tentative suspicion. (Also that figure refers to all kinds of abuse, including the purely physical.) Bottom line, of course most powerless abuse victims know their abusers, which always puts parents of any stripe on the front line — but again, we’re talking here about the kind of professions that tend to attract and/or create abusers.

    So, barring studies that simply can’t be done until the Vatican stops sweeping this shit under the rug, what do we have to fall back on? Profile. Google hits. I’m the first to admit that such data tends to skew (hell, judging by Google hits Paris Hilton is a more important figure than Charles Darwin — on the other hand, to most people in North America, that’s probably completely true). You’re unlikely to get reliable stats out of such methods — not any parametric ones, at least — but there is still information to be gleaned. If I were to count the hits returned when I Googled “Christina Miller”, for example, and compare that number to the hits returned from a search on “Cats”, I don’t think anybody out there would question the conclusion that cats are the more popular entity. Googling for sex abuse by clergy vs. sex abuse by dentists produces a similar imbalance; crude, lumpy, but so utterly overwhelming that only the most diehard apologists would cross their arms and claim that smoke did not equal fire.

    And now, I really have to leave this post behind and start on the next one.

  42. Yeah, Hljóðlegur does this sometimes — I’ve been corresponding with her for years, on and off, and her demands for rigor tend to be curiously inconsistent. (She once responded to one of Matt McCormick’s pro-atheism arguments with an ad hominem attack on the author — called him a “wanker” — without so much as a pretence of critiquing any of the actual arguments he made). These days I try not to engage so much, although sometimes the temptation grows overwhelming

    :) I feel exactly the same about you, Peter. Y’know, it’s like I need Something Big to put my shoulder against intellectually, and your giant brain is right there in the itchy spot? Eventually the temptation to comment overcomes my good sense. Thanks for the enlightening comment to Stansilaw’s point; I won’t argue it with you, that being his prerogative, but I enjoyed it.

    I’m sorry I insulted Matt, though. Sorry, Matt, my remark was uncalled for.

    Also, who’s passive-aggressive? I’m plain old aggressive, but in a verbal shoving match kind of way. Not out for blood.

  43. @Peter Watts

    Thank you for the post, I will record the information and arguments you provided for further reference.

    I still think that the Internet criterion leads to overestimates. If it didn’t, we should be able to find many, many times more data on parental abuse than on abuse by Catholic clergy. (You were right to point out that [step]fathers are not a professional group, so I am using this example now in another purpose: to underscore the weaknesses of Google-obtained information).

    However, and more importantly, I can certainly agree now that “the Google argument” (given all the “supporting arguments” you named in your posts) is a strong one. Yes, there remains a slim chance that it misleads us, but it most likely does not. For a Catholic, I think, this should be enough to become really wary of the problem of child abuse in the Church.

    And that, I suppose, is enough to say. (Let’s forget for a moment that I said I would end the discussion already, shall we?).

    With regards,