Dear SciAm: why do you condone rape?

I have a bunch of friends who blog over at Scientific American, real top rate folks.   It came as a real shock to read something as horrid at SciAm as I found this week.  Rarely have I read something in a mainstream publication that is so clearly irresponsible.

Jesse Bering, who writes “Bering in Mind” is some sort of psychologist, but thankfully not the clinical kind since he knows so little about human beings.  The title of the piece is offensive enough that I’m hesitant to quote it here.  Here’s the basic gist.

Bering allow folks to write in with questions, and chose to print one yesterday from a pedophile looking for comfort.  Jesse, rather than privately writing to the guy to tell him to get help, launches into an irrelevant dissertation on various sorts of pedophiles and how some are better than others.   He sub-fetishizes the fetish, giving pedophiles different monikers based on the age they prefer to prey on.

In his discussion of various sorts of pedophiles, he forgets to mention a few important facts: consent, power, and patriarchy.

Children are in no position to consent to sexual activity with an adult.  They do not understand the physical and emotional ramifications in any sort of useful way.  The age and maturity may affect how unprepared they are and in what way, but that’s about it.  The adult in such a “relationship” is abusing their knowledge and power to use a young person to fulfill their own needs without regards to the safety of the child.  These relationships are inherently non-consentual and abusive.

In our society, children are seen as chattel.  Very young children effectively are, not being able to feed themselves or perform any other independent activities.  But long after they have gained these abilities, many still view them as property.  Parents beat their children when they don’t do what property is supposed to do.  And other adults will use them as objects for sexual gratification.  This is never beneficial for the child.  There is no conceivable reason to allow adults to find sexual gratification in children, or to write an apologia for such behavior.

And this is what SciAm has done.  They have allowed one of their bloggers to write a piece that essentially excuses pedophilia by calling it normative behavior.  Whether or not it is “normative”, it is still wrong.  It is still rape.

But Jesse can’t just approve of pedophilia and leave it at that.  He has to up the ante of offensiveness:

Rind points out that it’s foolish and manipulative to demand that all teens frame their consensual trysts with all adults as inherently negative. He tells of a 14-year-old Jewish boy who lost his virginity to a prostitute in her 20s on the eve of the Holocaust only to soon perish at a concentration camp. On learning after the war from his son’s friend that the boy died a “man,” the boy’s father smiled and wept with pride. The irony, of course, is that today’s moral panic dictates that this teenager should be called a “survivor” of sex abuse had he actually escaped Auschwitz.

Really, Jesse?  This is somehow relevant?  A sex worker is hired to have sex with a minor and you see this as a positive?  For whom?  The woman forced to have sex with a stranger, or the child being forced to have sex by a relative or by societal demands?  Do you really think any Holocaust survivor who lost a child is comforted by the fact that the child didn’t die a virgin?  Would this putative survivor have had the same reaction had his child been a girl?  Did you consider the inanity and offensiveness of this Jesse?

I considered not writing about this because it seems so obviously wrong to me, but science isn’t amoral.  Scientific facts are amoral, but the way we apply them in society, the way we speak of them and present them, is a moral act, in this case a negative moral act.  Hopefully, someone will learn something useful from this debacle.  But I doubt it will be Jesse or his correspondent.



A correspondent has asked me if it is fair to “attack” SciAm for the work of an editorially-independent blogger.  I’m not sure I know the answer, but I’d love to hear some ideas.


  1. Kevin

     /  December 23, 2011

    Quick point of fact: the DSM-IV(TR) defines pedophilia as attraction to PRE-adolescent children. Adult attraction to post-pubescent (ie sexually mature) children has its own assiciated problems (many of which you point out), but it is not–by definition–pedophilia.

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but SciAm picks and chooses who they allow to blogge there. Thus, they have editorial responsibility for shitte posted there. This is different from, e.g.,, who lets any asshole with an Internet connection post whatever the fucke they want (subject to criminal laws, spamming, and a few other restrictions).

  3. Matthew

     /  December 23, 2011

    I urge everyone who reads this post to read the *whole* SciAm post and not just the quotes.
    You might very well disagree with the claim Bering is marching for the normalization of sex with minors.

    • MonkeyPox

       /  December 23, 2011

      Another debate team champeen!!!!

    • Just which part of the post was reasonable? Cuz i missed that.

      • I apparently read this before things hit the fan, so I’m not going back to check, but about all I can remember is that Bering sounded like he was trying to be polite. I had a spate of reading his stuff and found a number of things relating to sexual orientation that rubbed me the wrong way.

        40 years ago I attended a private boarding school which, for all practical purposes, housed a
        “ring” of pedophiles. Max student age was about 14, maybe 15 (9th grade),boys, so puberty was just beginning. I only know details of two students, one I knew, but I fairly quickly lost touch with everyone from there. Knowing (only this century) that this really was going on I have in retrospect suspicions about particular other students but as far as I know none have come forward (not that I’ve tried to find out). Certainly in that one case the results were negative: there was both power differential and sexual orientation issues (remember, 40 years ago).

        When I was involved with gay activism ca. 20 years ago I met a few late teens/young men who were advocating for lowered age of consent. I didn’t get to know them, and I’m leaving out some things what search engines might find, but it seems they had been taken in by older men and claimed to have appreciated the relationships. I don’t know how old they were when the relationships started but I’m guessing mid-adolescense at latest. My impression was that they’d been alienated from family, maybe friends, because of sexual orientation, so had been looking for both some kind of validation of their sexual orientation and parental substitute both.

        Then there was the teen who was HIV+. His partner (you I didn’t meet, they’d separated) had been only in his early 20s I think.

        What I think we need is romeo-and-juliet laws for age of consent. In many states the age is 18, which is insane for teens who want to fool around together – and they probably will. We need better sex education. Abstinence-only doesn’t make it, and nowadays there should be some sort of federal statistics on teen pregnancy which prove it. It should include discussion of relationships – gay and straight. (I have no idea what modern curricula are like.)

        We need to make sure LGBT teens don’t get bullied, don’t get alienaated – at school or at home. Even of they don’t run off there could still be emotional scars that last. Gay/straight alliances.

        This is a borderline trigger issue for me. When I see the GOP clown car making all their pronouncements on – well,, just about anything – my blood boils. Most those clowns are only a few degrees removed from the idiots who helped write the anti-gay legislation for Uganda (I think there may be someplace else in the works).

  4. Isis the Scientist

     /  December 23, 2011

    A correspondent has asked me if it is fair to “attack” SciAm for the work of an editorially-independent blogger. I’m not sure I know the answer, but I’d love to hear some ideas

    Yes. It’s perfectly ok. Editorial freedom in this situation is a cop-out..

  5. I was commenting on this over at Jezebel and I’ll repeat myself here, if that’s ok.

    Basically, there are two flaws with the reasoning.

    1. “Natural” is not an argument for “good” or “acceptable” or “beneficial.” All “natural” is, is an acknowledgment that it can be seen elsewhere in nature. But we see rape, murder, infanticide, and more in nature. We see aggressive males who limit the reproductive rights of all other males and females who kill the males they mate with. The fact that something might be deemed natural is not justification. And something being “unnatural” isn’t necessarily bad. If you love dressing up as a walrus when you have sex, and your partner loves when you dress up as a walrus and both of you have a great time, wonderful. Who cares if no other animals dress up as other animals for sexual gratification. No one is harmed, everyone is a consenting adult. Bully for you.

    2. If something has the risk of being harmful, the person arguing that it could be beneficial bears the burden of proof. Your desire to do something isn’t justified based on a hypothetical premise that it could be eventually viewed as positive. You can’t say murder should be legal because you could end up killing a bad person in the process. It is funny that some people want to apply rules to sexual interactions that would never fly in other areas of life. So if someone wants to argue that adult men having sex with very young girls could benefit the girls, despite plenty of evidence that it can be quite harmful, he has made the extraordinary claim and he must provide the extraordinary evidence. Anecdote and hypotheticals are not that sort of evidence.

  6. You are on good ground here to move forward.

    This situation is similar to the evolutionary biologist blogger on Psychology Today who wrote erroneously, unscientifically, unbalenced commentary about the beauty of women of color. The controversy quickly shut down the Psychology Today website, led to the removal of the post and the blogger as well as a call for a more inclusive involvement in their editorial process and leadership. The campaign was led by women of scholars and activists gaining the outrage of many more.

    See these articles

    Psychology Today, An Apology Is Not Enough!
    by Brittney Cooper and Susana Morris

    On May 15, 2011, Psychology Today magazine published an article by London-based evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa entitled “Why are Black women less physically attractive than other women?” The piece asserted “objectively” that in “fact,” Black women are uglier than all other races of women. But in fact, there is nothing objective or factual about these conclusions. This article (along with a number of other articles by Kanazawa) perpetuates the worst traditions of racial pseudo-science and scientific racism in Western thought. It is unfortunate that Psychology Today decided to use Kanazawa’s false and sensational narratives about Black women’s bodies and lives to drive viewership to their site. Black women’s bodies should not be forced to act as vehicular transport for the racist and sexist baggage of pseudo-science.

    A swift online response and petition here at, written by a collective of black women, and endorsed by over 40 black women and men, engendered over 40,000 signatures. Meanwhile, the student governing body at the London School of Economics, where Kanazawa teaches, unanimously called for his termination.

    In contrast to this immediate protest from the public, Psychology Today’s response has been tepid and lethargic. Almost two full weeks after the offending article first appeared, Kaja Perina, editor-in-chief, issued a lukewarm apology:

    Last week, a blog post about race and appearance by Satoshi Kanazawa was published–and promptly removed–from this site. We deeply apologize for the pain and offense that this post caused. Psychology Today’s mission is to inform the public, not to provide a platform for inflammatory and offensive material.Psychology Today does not tolerate racism or prejudice of any sort. The post was not approved byPsychology Today, but we take full responsibility for its publication on our site. We have taken measures to ensure that such an incident does not occur again. Again, we are deeply sorry for the hurt that this post caused. (Source)

    Click on the link to read more:

    Connect with Aishah Shahidah Simmons Twitter: @AfroLez

  7. To the addendum:

    A correspondent has asked me if it is fair to “attack” SciAm for the work of an editorially-independent blogger. I’m not sure I know the answer, but I’d love to hear some ideas.

    Imagine that instead of a blog, SciAm were a grocery store. And let’s say instead of a blog post, this were tainted spinach. Even if the grocery store did not have any control over the product coming in and stacked it on the shelves with the assumption that the spinach maker provided a uncontaminated product, the grocery store would still be responsible for addressing the issue even if it was not at fault. So yes, SciAm offered a product that is unfit for its site and it needs to address that.

    This, of course, assumes that the SciAm has no staff reviewing blog posts before they go live. If there is an editor who reviews content he or she missed a chance to address this before it made SciAm look bad and it essentially means that SciAm bears some responsibility for the content of the article.

  8. Gross Anatomy

     /  December 24, 2011

    Well, I’ve arrived at another feminist filter bubble, so I’ll just drop this off and step away quietly:

    @ Marnie who said: “So if someone wants to argue that adult men having sex with very young girls could benefit the girls, despite plenty of evidence that it can be quite harmful, he has made the extraordinary claim and he must provide the extraordinary evidence.”

    The evidence shows, as the letter states, that sex is healthy for the brain and therefore mind. The claim of evidence of harm to the teen mind is actually the poorly supported one:

    Fast Times @ Free Thought High

    • @Gross Anatomy
      One reason children cannot legally consent to sex is similar to why doctors, psychologists, bosses, professors and other people in a position of power are not permitted to coerce their patients, employees, students, etc to have sex with them. When there is a power imbalance it is not real consent. The individual may feel he or she has no ability to decline or will be punished for doing so.

      But further, what is healthy for an adult is not the same as what is healthy for a child. Just because you may benefit from drinking red wine, doesn’t mean you should be giving alcohol to children. You may benefit from smoking a little pot, but getting a child high is irresponsible. Sex is great and a wonderful part of life but it does not need to be a part of a developing child’s life and there’s no reason to suggest that it should be handled by adult men.

      Since psychology today also posted an article about how black women are objectively less attractive than other women, I’m disinclined to consider them a credible source.

    • Sex among peers may be healthy for teens, there seems to be little evidence it is more harmful than not. However this is MUCH different than saying sex between teens and adults is healthy. Those are two very different claims.

  9. Srsly, what kind of fucken dumshitte ignorant maroon cites Psychology Today in any context other than to ridicule it?

  10. Well, Jess didn’t learn from the furor last time. This is at least the second time Bering has enthusiastically defended pedophilia in a well-respected public forum. He’s a menace, and yes, SciAm deserves a great deal of blame for lending credibility to his crazy.

  11. *sigh*

    I was vaguely hoping I’d go over there and find an answer something like “it’s not your fault that you have these desires. Ethics is about what you do. Keep staying away from teens, and try not to beat yourself up over the fact that you need to make an effort there.” But there’s a huge difference between “yes, some people have those desires, and just thinking about it doesn’t make you irredeemable”, with or without suggestions about ways the letter-writer could sublimate or distract himself, and excusing actions.

    • Well said. I understand the rage some of these posters are feeling, but explaining behavior doesn’t sanction/endorse it. We could fill a room with papers and texts on sociopathy, but that doesn’t mean society endorses the behavior (we, in fact lock those people up). I don’t see the harm in dialogue. Everyone going on the record with all their vitriol is never going to help us understand aberrant behaviors. Sometimes we need to put our fear-driven rage away and try to look at problems analytically. Some of these responses are analogous to a child covering his ears and screaming “I can’t hear you!”

  12. Gordon Geise

     /  December 27, 2011

    The letter-writer *discusses* no actions. The letter-writer isn’t writing about his own actions. And the blogger doesn’t address the letter-writer’s actions. In fact, the first thing the letter-writer says is he’s a NON-PRACTICING hebephile. The entire discussion is about the societal taboo.

    “Musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture”? Sorry, you’ve just demonstrated you don’t give the first fuck about science, by denigrating neutral observation in favor of unsubstantiated, value-laden rancor. Asshole.

    I heartily suggest that the letter-writer doesn’t need to be told to “get help”; but the totalitarian care bear talking in universals here really ought to consider getting help—if with nothing else than their illiteracy.

  13. @Gordon Geise

    Sorry, you’ve just demonstrated you don’t give the first fuck about science, by denigrating neutral observation in favor of unsubstantiated, value-laden rancor. Asshole.

    I’m not sure I’d call it neutral. Neutral would imply that the pros and cons were offered with equal weight and consideration.

    Let’s look at what was actually asked and what was actually discussed.

    The letter writer is a male interested in females between (about) the age of 11-14.

    The response states that one study calls into question the negative impact of adult relationships with minors. Adolescence, according to wikipedia ( is anywhere between 13-19 years old which covers a wider range of ages than hebephilia, by far, and not the lower end of that scale at all. Additionally the study only looked at the impact on male minors not on female minors. So not only does the study not address the same age group, it doesn’t even address the same gender as the letter writer’s concern.

    The study is also taken alone without any mention of peer review responses. A study being published isn’t gospel, it is a step in the process of the scientific method. Lots of BS gets raked over the coals after publication. If the response were neutral to the letter writer, we’d learn not only of this single study that only tangentially relates to the original question, but we’d be given links to alternative views on the topic and information about the negative impacts these types of relationships can have on the minor.

    That would be neutral and scientific.

  14. Anyone who describes themselves as a NON-PRACTICING hebephile is just a brief moment of opportunity and summed up courage from being a snatcher/childmolester. So yeah, dude needs help.

  15. Stefan

     /  January 6, 2012

    That is one of the most stupid things I’ve ever read.

    First of all, paedophilia is not a fetish. Children are not objects. Pedophilia is a sexual orientation. Secondly, hebephilia has nothing to do with pedophilia. Pedophilia refers to children, not adolescents.

    “Do you really think any Holocaust survivor who lost a child is comforted by the fact that the child didn’t die a virgin? Would this putative survivor have had the same reaction had his child been a girl? ”

    Why would it make a difference if the child had been a girl? What an awfully sexist thing to say.

    At least we can have some solace that the poor victim didn’t have to die a virgin, I can’t see how you could be against that?

    • “Pedophilia is a sexual orientation” in the same way that Hannibal Lecter has unique culinary tastes.

    • Timid Atheist

       /  January 10, 2012

      Really? REALLY? The child dies during the HOLOCAUST and yet you’re comforted they weren’t a virgin when they died?

      Am I the only one who finds this utterly without merit?

      Let me ask then, why it’s a good thing they didn’t die a virgin and why that would make anyone feel better that they’ve lost their child to genocide?

      • Stefan

         /  January 12, 2012

        Why is it a good thing they didn’t die a virgin? Is that really a question? What an odd question. How would having experienced an extremely pleasurable activity such as sex before dying, a phenomenon known and shared by all humankind and an essential part of what it is to be human, and knowing what the big fuss was about, not be better than dying and not having experienced it?

        As the article referenced states, regardless to what your personal views on sex are, many consider losing your virginity a milestone in life and a part of becoming an adult.

        I am still unsure what the author of the article above means when they ask “what if it was a girl?” and can only assume it’s some sort of sexist rhetoric.

        • Are you serious? Do you think that families terrorized and murdered by the nazis, seeing all of their friends and family murdered, their entire culture erased, give a shit about whether they had sex before the zyclon b hit the showers? Really?

          And the “girl” reference points out that in our society, virginity is prized in girls, while promiscuity is prized in boys.

  1. Dear Kate: I am a science provocateur - News of the day
  2. Links 12/27/11 | Mike the Mad Biologist
%d bloggers like this: