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Posts Tagged ‘reasonable argument’

Slapping Around Corporal Punishment

Posted by Ethan Clow on January 16, 2011

If I could just shy away from all that the attention that’s been given to homeopathy and the CBC Marketplace episode for a just a few moments…I’d like to talk about corporal punishment. (I feel like I need a knight with a rubber chicken for that segue.)

Last week on the show we discussed corporal punishment. Inspired by many conversations I’ve had with friends and acquaintances who have some rather interesting ideas about corporal punishment. It seemed to me like their ideas on corporal punishment are informed by evidence that isn’t scientific, so I wanted to investigate and see what science actually has to say on corporal punishment.


Is it the same as child abuse?

Is it dangerous?

Does corporal punish work?

First, let’s define our terms.

Child abuse:

What is it?
-Generally defined as the physical/emotional mistreatment of children. According to the CDC in America child abuse is defined asAny act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child

-Child abuse is divided into 4 main categories:

  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse –  contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological abuse – behaviour that is psychologically harmful

Why is it done?
The exact causes are unknown. Some evidence indicates that child abuses correlates with parents who are addicts, abusive to their spouses, and socio-economic reasons.

Corporal Punishment:

What is it?
-Generally speaking it is defined as the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable. When done to children it is sometimes referred to as ‘corporal punishment in the home.’

-It typically takes the form of spanking or open hand swatting.

-However it can also take the form of whipping and/or beating with items/weapons. Whips, belts, paddles, canes etc.

Why is it done?
It is a form of punishment. The rational behind it is that it is quick, cost effective, and provides immediate results.

Are they the same thing?


The intent isn’t the same (correcting bad behaviour vs trying to cause harm) and…
The end result isn’t the same (corporal punishment usually doesn’t result in serious injuries vs abuse which typically does)


There is in both cases an intent to harm (regardless of the extent to harm) and…
The end result is the same because force has been used when it need not have been.

Why is it important to specify child abuse and corporal punishment? Child abuse is illegal, corporal punishment isn’t. In order to have any successful understanding of why or why not corporal punishment should/should not be used, we have to clearly indicate what is and what isn’t so that both sides can understand we’re talking about. Because individual experience varies so much on corporal punishment, we have to specify exactly what we’re talking about. Consider how for one person, they might be talking about using a belt on a child whereas one person might be talking about spanking.

Is Corporal Punishment dangerous?  This is typically where we get a lot of disagreement and accusations of being ideological or biased. We are trying to determine if corporal punishment has lasting detrimental impact on a child’s development.

Many sociologists and psychologists claim that there is a large amount of evidence that child abuse leads to further problems in life. (Barrish, 1996; Straus and Kantor, 1994; Weiss et al., 1992; Straus 1997).

For instance A 1996 study suggested that children who receive corporal punishment are more likely to be angry as adults, use spanking as a form of discipline, approve of striking a spouse, and experience marital discord.

The difficulty with this is how can you possibly control for all the factors between childhood and becoming an adult and factor it down to corporal punishment? Many in the field have labelled such efforts unscientific.

I think making the argument that corporal punishment could cause problems later in life is to broad a question to work with. More enlightening would be to look at the damage corporal punishment can cause in the present. Going back to my first point of defining what is and what isn’t abuse is critical. The problem is that what defines it – is lasting harm. So you have this continuum where it starts off legal until a certain point when it becomes illegal and that change can come depending on really variable factors.

A parent accustomed to using corporal punishment may, when frustrated, to step over the line into physical abuse.

This is why many of the laws regulating corporal punishment are so strictly defined.

In Canada the law states that the person administering the punishment must be a parent or legal guardian, and not a school teacher or other person (i.e. non-parental relatives such as grandparents, aunts, or uncles, as well as babysitters and other caretakers, are banned from spanking); that the force must be used “by way of correction” (sober, reasoned uses of force that address the actual behaviour of the child and are designed to restrain, control or express some symbolic disapproval of his or her behaviour), that the child must be capable of benefiting from the correction (i.e. not under the age of 2 or over 12, etc.)

Punishment involving slaps or blows to the head is considered harmful. Use of any implement other than a bare hand is illegal, and “bare-bottom” spanking is also illegal.”

The operative phrase being “reasonable force” which is going to be decided on a case by case standard.

These two points (the demarcation between corporal punishment and child abuse and the lasting damage) are the most controversial. When it comes to asking if corporal punishment actually works, there isn’t much controversy.

(Of course people think there is.) But in reality, the science on behaviour changing through violence and punishment is pretty well understood and there isn’t a lot of disagreement on this. It’s also collaborated by a lot of independent evidence and research, not necessary relating to corporal punishment but simple experiments on behaviour.

Studies have indicated that corporal punishment of children can increase short-term compliance with parental commands. But not long term compliance. Examples of such circumstances are that no implements should be used, that the child is between ages 2 and 6, that the punishment be carried out in private, and that it should occur less than once per week. However, comparisons in the same study with alternative punishments such as one-minute time-outs did not establish that corporal punishment was more effective. (Larzelere, 1996)

The science seems to be in consensus that corporal punishment is not a reliable form of punishment. It many cases it may actually increase the negative behaviour of the child. There are a few major problems, not just related to corporal punishment but related to any behaviour modification through negative reinforcement. 1) the effect is temporary 2) unless done immediately after the offense, it doesn’t work (the reinforcement comes after the behaviour) 3) it doesn’t pass on any information other than “that was wrong” – not “what I should have done”

Now these are also problems of punishing in general. In order for any punishment to work it has deal with those points (and there are other issues as well that I haven’t gone into) So the question from a scientific point of view might be, cannot a non-violent punishment like a time out serve just as well, if not better?

If you look at what experts are saying on this matter, they would seem to agree with that suggestion:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated as an official position:

“Because of the negative consequences of spanking and because it has been demonstrated to be no more effective than other approaches for managing undesired behavior in children, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents be encouraged and assisted in developing methods other than spanking in response to undesired behavior.” – link to source

During the show I quoted the Canadian Paediatric Society on their policy of corporal punishment, however when I searched for the source of that quote I couldn’t locate it. If anyone comes across it please let me know.

Conversations about corporal punishment often devolve into debates and polemics about who “owns” children and the rights of a parent to raise their child according to their culture and society. I really don’t think that that’s the direction this conversation has to go. If we are committed to looking at the research and evidence we can move beyond some of the rhetoric.


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Best little Whore House….pt 2

Posted by Don McLenaghen on October 20, 2010

In part 1, we discussed the legality around the court challenge and took a sceptical look at the court ruling. Now we will look at the issue itself – should brothels be legalized.

Now there are two questions to be asked. IF prostitution is innately wrong (be it for moral, gender equality or other reasons) then the law should outlaw prostitution (a position I oppose but will save that argument for another day). It seems to be the current ‘will of the people’ see prostitution as just another trade/occupation; that it is not innately wrong – as such it is currently legal in Canada. Those who disagree with this are welcome to change the minds of Canadians (with rational empirical evidence of course) but this is a straw man argument against brothels themselves.

As a society, we accept prostitution as a valid and legal profession; that said we can agree that prostitution as currently practiced can lead to situation where workers are subjugated to violence, theft and coercion. The second question then is: how can we make the sex-trade safer for ‘participants’ (workers and clients) and ‘law abiding’? The striking down of these laws was a step in that direction.

As long as prostitution is legal (and even if it were not) there will be brothels…they are convenient for the client and desired among the workers (re: testimony). So, under which condition – legal vs. illegal – are brothels more likely to be positive environments or negative environment?

If there are illegal, there is NO opportunity for civil officials – be it law enforcement, medical or social – to interact with the workers to ensure their safety or security.

If they are illegal there are, by definition, run by criminals. The criminal element is by its nature more likely to abuse it workers…it is also likely to be involved in other ‘subsidiary’ illegal activities such as drug dealing. This is dangerous not only to the workers who will be more likely forced into conditions of dependency but also the harm to the community.

If they are illegal, the workers are discouraged from working in ‘safe’ neighbourhoods and self-incriminate if they contact authorities to report abuses. The communication law, also forces workers to work in isolates unsafe environments.

IF they are legal (AND regulated), civic officials can ensure safe work environments, provide outreach for those suffering from addiction and ensure the business operates both within the law and also pays its share of taxes.

IF they are legal, those operating the businesses will be business men (although I personal see the capitalism as a criminal, current society does not). They will have, as all legal entrepreneurs, an interest to uphold to the law, ensure they deal with their employees in a legal and fair way and provide an amiable environment for their cliental. They will be active positive members of the community, paying taxes and protecting their investments.

IF they are legal, those working in the brothels can call upon the resources of the state for protection from abuse, to help ensure a safe and respectful work environment and not worry if they require assistance from the authorities they will themselves be criminalized.

Now, there other issues involved in the sex trade – notable child prostitution and human trafficking (sex slaves). These issues will not be exacerbated but the legalization of brothels; if anything they will be hampered. If a brothel employs ‘honest’ prostitutes, they will be more likely to ‘whistle blow’ on brothels where illegal activity (like child or slave labour) is occurring. Making brothels legal will not make child-sex legal nor will it encourage human trafficking. In fact it will decrease the available avenues these activities will be able to operate as most sex work becomes above-board.

Fair dinkum, I am not saying that legalizing brothels will end violence to prostitutes…magically illuminate the criminal pimp…stop human trafficking or bring to an end child prostitution. What I am saying is by making this, like prostitution, legitimate you will shed a light on the business and drives out most of the negative elements…make it more likely that workers will get counselling for addiction and medical attention. There will be a selective pressure promoting safe brothels because the vast majority of their clients also want an safe and clean environment.

Ultimately, those who claim they worry about the safety of sex works are against these laws being struck down seem contradictory. They believe even if we legalize brothels some will still remain ‘underground’ and some will remain in the hands of violent and/or criminal pimps. Even if that were true, all I can say is I don’t understand how limiting the number of legit venues for prostitutes will make them safer? How is keeping brothels, ALL brothels in the hands of criminal gangs helping to make them safer? No, these laws needed to be struck down and a reasonable set of regulations put in their place. 

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You won’t like skeptics when they’re angry

Posted by Ethan Clow on December 28, 2009

X-posted from Skeptic North (Saturday, December 19, 2009)

Temper that is. When it comes to argument we Skeptics like to keep it grounded in the scientific style in which childish name calling is excluded and ruthless logic prevails. But sometimes that’s not the case. Like any normal human being we can get angry and sometimes we let that emotional energy warp our otherwise logical argument.

Not only does emotion turn any civil disagreement into a potential minefield, it can also be the basis for logical fallacies like the appeal to emotion.

So how do we maintain control over our emotions? After all, sometimes we debate some pretty serious matters. It’s often very difficult to fully divorce ourselves from the topic as well, especially if you happen to be arguing for something you personally agree with. Making things more difficult is if your opposition chooses to use personal attacks on your character, intelligence or motives. Anyone who has been reading Skeptic North for a while knows that we’ve gotten some pretty harsh and rude responses from people who don’t agree with us.

For my post I want to talk about how I failed to keep my emotions in check for such an argument, but I also want to pose to our readers here questions about how they keep their emotions in check when in a heated debate. I’ll also do my best to offers some advice (both for myself and our readers) about how to dodge the messy bullet of letting your emotions get the better of you.

Earlier in the week I had one such moment. It all began after I, along with some close associates, finished listening to an episode of my podcast. To my immense surprise one of the people present told me that I, along with my co-hosts (and skeptics in general) were just as bad as proponents of woo (my terminology)

Shocked, I demanded an explanation. What I got was the tired old accusations that I’m pretty sure all skeptics have had lobbed at them.

Since we’re all atheists, we obviously don’t believe in anything, we have no moral foundations and lack respect for anyone or anything, I was told.

First, we (Skeptics) are not all atheists. In fact, I’m even sure if I’ve mentioned my religious views on the show in the past. Second, atheists are not nihilists. I’m not going to bother re-counting my counterpoints that I made since I know most readers here are familiar with them and that information is readily available from other sources.

To make a long story short, this person basically made the following assertions that I found particularly insulting. Why did I find them insulting? You’re probably asking, after all we skeptics should be use to having insults thrown our way by those who don’t agree with us. That’s true. But in my case this wasn’t some anonymous commenter or pseudo science hack but rather someone who I’ve known for my whole life.

To lay out this person’s objections to skepticism and my presentation of it…

We are promoting a life style that is immoral. (atheism, nihilism)
At best, our arguments are opinion and as such have no more validity as other “personal beliefs.”

We are arrogant and elitist; anyone who disagrees with us is an idiot, and we mask our own ignorance with our “college words” (direct quote.)

Finally, we have no respect for tradition or the opinions of others.

Now to say the least, I was floored. I would expect this from Jenny McCarthy or Kirk Cameron or UFOologists (and rightfully shrug it off) but coming from who it did, I lost it.
The argument essentially devolved into a shouting match and a lot of accusations were thrown back and forth. I’m not particularly proud to say that but it’s the truth. I simply got pushed over the edge.

What should I have done? What would you have done? Looking back on it I realize now that most sensible thing to do would have been to walk away. Someone that ignorant of the goals of skepticism wouldn’t be won over my arguments anyway. If you’re confronted with someone who can’t understand the difference between science and opinion, logical argument won’t change their mind and you’ll just be wasting your breath. Besides, I’ve often been of the mind that debating pseudo-science is a mistake. It gives a legitimacy that the woo side doesn’t deserve. (One of the reasons I don’t support debating Holocaust Deniers.)

If I were to sit there and debate the merits of skepticism with someone who is essentially advocating that no definitive knowledge is possible, I would be legitimizing that notion.
With regards to the criticism of how I and my friends on Radio Freethinker present skepticism, I sincerely hope we do it the proper service by doing dill diligence on the facts and presenting the information in a clear and precise way. We also try to be as fair and even handed as possible. Of course we also try to present skepticism in a fun and entertaining show that even a non expert could enjoy. Based on the feedback we’ve received, people seem to enjoy it. I welcome criticism of course but like anyone else we expect it to be presented in a polite and constructive manner, sans swearing and insults.

Of course it’s a whole other ballgame once your opponent has insulted you. What do you do when you’re insulted? One of the problems with being angry is that logical thinking generally is the first victim. You might be tempted to fire a nasty insult back. “Oh yah well you’re so stupid you believe…” Don’t do that. What I realize looking back is that I shouldn’t have said anything. Give yourself a few seconds to calm down. For me, I try to picture someone like Carl Sagan or James Randi or any logical person in a debate, would they respond with a vicious insult? I can’t picture that; instead they might take a deep breath and try to demonstrate that they won’t stoop to the level of their opponent.

What if the person you’re debating with refuses to see or acknowledge logical argument? In my case, I was trying to explain that my opponent was using circular reasoning. They responded my throwing their hands in the air and accusing me of being some university intellectual using fancy words. When someone uses logical fallacies you should call them on it. But when someone actually denies that a logical fallacy is even a bad thing…further if they try to use your own logic against you as a form of ad hominem attack, what then? As I see it, you have two options. Take a deep breath and press on. Or walk away.

Dealing with people who are so philosophically opposed to skepticism is not an easy thing. I do my best to make it clear what the difference is between me and my fellow skeptics and those who promote woo and pseudo-science. Yet despite my best efforts there are people who simply cannot, or chose not, to see things that way. Some people simply view it as “another belief system” that currently is in power, i.e. the Western Pejorative, which Kimberly wrote an excellent piece on. Others view skepticism as simply another world view as equally valid as choosing to be a Christian or choosing to believe in UFO’s or choosing to believe in a flat earth.

For those people who reject the scientific method (or really any inductive reasoning) and assert that all knowledge is completely subjective, and/or have no understanding of what makes logical arguments or how one can logically answer questions (why for example you can’t prove a negative, or why its important to have evidence that goes beyond anecdotal or circumstantial) all hope might be lost.

In the meantime, we skeptics should do what we can to avoid losing control of our emotions. What keeps us different from ideologues is our ability to not make up our minds until after we look at the evidence. If we allow ourselves to become so emotionally attached to an idea or issue we risk putting on blinders to any outside opinion.

Worse, we’ll seem like jerks.

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