The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘Statistical Voodoo and Elastic Definitions’

Posted on | June 15, 2014 | 35 Comments

Such is the substance of the campus rape “epidemic,” as I explained Wednesday (“Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But George Will’s Column Raped Me”) in rejecting the claim that skepticism toward feminist rhetoric is morally equivalent to rape.

Feminism’s hegemonic dominance within elite academia has been achieved because cowards are easily intimidated by intellectual bullying, but George Will refused to play along with that charade. His reply to a group of Democratic senators is a masterpiece of concision:

Dear Senators Blumenthal, Feinstein, Baldwin and Casey:
I have received your letter of June 12, and I am puzzled. You say my statistics “fly in the face of everything we know about this issue.” You do not mention which statistics, but those I used come from the Obama administration, and from simple arithmetic involving publicly available reports on campus sexual assaults.
The administration asserts that only 12 percent of college sexual assaults are reported. Note well: I did not question this statistic. Rather, I used it.
I cited one of the calculations based on it that Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute has performed . . . So, I think your complaint is with the conclusion that arithmetic dictates, based on the administration’s statistic. The inescapable conclusion is that another administration statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college is insupportable and might call for tempering your rhetoric about “the scourge of sexual assault.”

What Will wrote in his original column was this:

The administration’s crucial and contradictory statistics are validated the usual way, by official repetition; Joe Biden has been heard from. The statistics are: One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12 percent of assaults are reported. Simple arithmetic demonstrates that if the 12 percent reporting rate is correct, the 20 percent assault rate is preposterous. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute notes, for example, that in the four years 2009 to 2012 there were 98 reported sexual assaults at Ohio State. That would be 12 percent of 817 total out of a female student population of approximately 28,000, for a sexual assault rate of approximately 2.9 percent — too high but nowhere near 20?percent.

The arithmetic is indeed “simple,” and the administration’s claims about the prevalence of sexual assault on campus don’t add up. Even if we accept the claim that only 12% of sexual assaults are reported, multiplying the number of reported sexual assaults eight-fold still does not yield a number equal to 20% of female students.

Where did this ginned-up phony rape “epidemic” originate? What is the source of the “one in five women” number? A 2007 Justice Department survey that has been helpfully analyzed by Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post. Anyone familiar with social science methodology can examine the questions asked in that survey and see that the fundamental problem is how the questions were phrased: Respondents were asked about “unwanted sexual contact” and even attempted “unwanted sexual contact.” In other words, if your boyfriend even tries to do something “unwanted,” you’re a victim.

Perhaps the people who designed that survey did not deliberately bias the results in a way that exaggerated the incidence of “sexual assault.” Perhaps the researchers did not even think about how their survey might be hijacked for political purposes. Perhaps it is, in some sense, ultimately impossible for researchers to quantify in any definitive way the content of people’s sexual experience.

On the other hand, however, feminists have spent the past four decades trying to convince women that male sexuality is inherently violent and oppressive. (How many times must I recommend Daphne Patai’s valuable 1998 book Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism as an analysis of this troubling phenomenon?) It’s not just deranged radicals — “PIV is always rape, OK?” — who embrace feminism’s demonized view of male sexuality and, when I encounter social science research which appears designed to confirm that view, I am not inclined to accept claims that the methodological flaws of the survey are entirely coincidental. Glenn Kessler comments:

On its Web site, the National Institute of Justice notes . . . that “researchers have been unable to determine the precise incidence of sexual assault on American campuses because the incidence found depends on how the questions are worded and the context of the survey.” It said that two parallel surveys of American college women were conducted in 1997 and came up with very different results, with one survey showing rapes were 11 times higher than the percentage in the other survey. The reason appears to be because of how the questions were worded.

If it is a known fact that the wording of survey questions can affect results in this way — multiplying by a factor of 11 the reports of rape — the reliance on such surveys to generate statistics that are clearly inflated cannot be accepted as a mere coincidence. The conclusion of George Will’s reply to the Democrat senators:

I think I take sexual assault much more seriously than you do. Which is why I worry about definitions of that category of crime that might, by their breadth, tend to trivialize it. And why I think sexual assault is a felony that should be dealt with by the criminal justice system, and not be adjudicated by improvised campus processes.

This is the real crux of the problem: University officials have insisted on treating accusations of sexual assault as disciplinary infractions rather than as matters of criminal justice. Why? Because the vast majority of such accusations involve “he said/she said” situations where a felony conviction would almost certainly be impossible.

The Brown University case of Dan Kopin and Lena Sclove may not be typical, but it demonstrates the fundamental problem. No one wishes to minimize the seriousness of sexual assault, but when such an incident is cited as evidence of universities tolerating “brutal rape” on campus, we’ve gone through the looking glass into an alternative reality where words have no fixed meaning.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”



35 Responses to “‘Statistical Voodoo and Elastic Definitions’”

  1. Gert
    June 15th, 2014 @ 1:22 pm

    You’ve got to admire feminists. They’ve waged ceaseless, unrelenting, war on the white male conservative status quo, and all it’s institutions and traditions, and it is finally starting to pay off.

  2. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    June 15th, 2014 @ 2:27 pm

    How patriarchal and unfair of George Will to use fact and logic in his arguments, instead of emotion and hyperbole…

  3. Escher's House
    June 15th, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

    Part of the problem here is the slippery definition of “sexual assault.” Under Virginia law, there are 10 separate offenses constituting sexual assault. Everything from forcible rape to mere sexual abuse (the unwanted touching of the complainant’s intimate parts). Some permit pleading consent as an affirmative defense, others don’t (e.g., sexual touching of a minor).

    These incidents appear to stretch the definition even further: the girl is drunk, the boy may or may not be drunk, the sex is consensual, she regrets it the next morning, he’s guilty of sexual assault. He could never be convicted under the criminal law. But he can be thrown out of college and his life ruined.

  4. DeadMessenger
    June 15th, 2014 @ 3:01 pm

    Statistics have shown that 79% of all statistics are just made up anyway.

  5. Da St
    June 15th, 2014 @ 3:01 pm

    Have fun with lefties/liberals/progressives. Start a conversation on morality in general. You take the view that there are moral absolutes, things that are objectively right and wrong, irrespective of culture, time, location, and circumstances. The liberaleftigressive will deny it, laugh at you, maybe even ask you “like what?” or “Name one thing.”

    That’s when you hit them with: rape.

    Dare them to disagree with that.

    There are three possibilities: 1. The lefty will agree, which allows you to push on to the matter of why rape is wrong, always, everywhere, for everyone, and what that implies for morality. 2. The lefty will usually not want to make the concession that rape is always wrong, though, because, well, what he or she just said, so they’ll start saying you have to define “rape.” Obviously, you could be wrong about what rape is, right? Just ask the liberal to define it instead–and define it in such a way that there is no rape that is always, everywhere, for everyone, wrong. 3. Or the liberaleftigressive will say that rape isn’t always wrong, for everyone, everywhere. They will not want to do this, but may be forced to; in which case, they’ll say that it is definitely wrong in the United States, though it might be moral in, oh, Saudi Arabia or some other place the liberaleftigressive feels no attachment to. Wherever they find it to be morally okay, you can be sure it’ll be somewhere where people aren’t white–because, when it comes down to it, your liberaleftigressive friend is, in fact, a racist as well as an idiot.

  6. smitty
    June 15th, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

    I mean, are these not Arabic numbers? Are not algorithms a sort of intellectual form of Sharia for information? Of course math is sexist!

  7. Outrage! Gang Members Crossing! | Regular Right Guy
    June 15th, 2014 @ 3:14 pm

    […] ‘Statistical Voodoo and Elastic Definitions’ […]

  8. concern00
    June 15th, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

    The whole rape is wrong paradigm totally hinges on moral absolutes. It is the left that has turned sex into a harmless recreation which undermines our perceived severity of rape. This is yet another liberal contradiction. Sex is good and harmless; everyone should be free (empowered even) to engage in sex with anybody and anything in every conceivable way. No shame; it’s all great…unless it’s subjectively not.

  9. nickshaw
    June 15th, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

    First off, the common lefty doesn’t have the ability to pay attention beyond the first two sentences of your rebuttal and, where does “rape-rape” fit into the conversation? 😉

  10. nickshaw
    June 15th, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

    Wasn’t it the “left” who promoted the idea of free love in the first place?
    Doesn’t the idea of free love actually invite touching?
    Did they suddenly “evolve” which, apparently, is what leftys do on a regular basis.

  11. concern00
    June 15th, 2014 @ 4:51 pm

    I think you meant devolve.

  12. nickshaw
    June 15th, 2014 @ 5:04 pm

    LOL! Perhaps so.
    How long before the feminazis require men to wear gloves and muzzles? 😉

  13. News of the Week (June 15th, 2014) | The Political Hat
    June 15th, 2014 @ 5:13 pm

    […] ‘Statistical Voodoo and Elastic Definitions’ Such is the substance of the campus rape “epidemic,” as I explained Wednesday (“Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But George Will’s Column Raped Me”) in rejecting the claim that skepticism toward feminist rhetoric is morally equivalent to rape. […]

  14. concern00
    June 15th, 2014 @ 5:21 pm

    Sounds kinky. How does that fit into #rapeculture theory?

  15. Adjoran
    June 15th, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

    Good for George Will, but I’m sure he was angered at being challenged by those four lightweights.

    DOJ/FBI stats show US rapes steadily declining. It’s under one per 200,000 per year now. Even if you are as bad at math as Democrats or feminists, you can see that ain’t “20%” by a long shot. The CDC study wasn’t flawed, it’s the analysis. They just lumped together every respondent who said they had ever even felt threatened.

    Sorry, Sweet Cheeks, but being scared walking home alone at night isn’t rape. For purposes of Obama’s war on wymmins, though, it counts.

  16. Adjoran
    June 15th, 2014 @ 5:45 pm

    IF the 20% were true, it would be your daughter is over 40,000 times more likely to be raped at college than anywhere else. Who would send their daughter to college if that were true?

    No one, of course, and it is not, of course.

  17. Bob Belvedere
    June 15th, 2014 @ 5:49 pm

    Indeed. Hysteria is a feature, not a bug, for Feminists.

    Perhaps we should bring back the late 19th Century treatment for Hysteria…

  18. Bob Belvedere
    June 15th, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

    The old cliche is true:

    There are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics.

  19. nickshaw
    June 15th, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

    How does anything fit into rapeculture theory?

  20. Bob Belvedere
    June 15th, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

    Well, Hell, Admiral Daddy-O, Binary Code is sexist!

    ‘0’ [which looks like a vagina] = null, false, off, whereas ‘1’ [which looks like a penis] = not-null, true, on.

  21. Bob Belvedere
    June 15th, 2014 @ 6:02 pm


  22. Quartermaster
    June 15th, 2014 @ 6:49 pm

    That’s why I loved working with digital systems back in the 80s. It was so kinky.

  23. robertstacymccain
    June 15th, 2014 @ 8:43 pm

    There are two separate problems: First is the reckless expansion of the definition of “sexual assault” and second is the use of school disciplinary proceedings instead of the criminal justice system. The result is that you have a lot of incidents described as “sexual assault” where there is no chance for an actual criminal verdict, and this vast number of unpunished “assaults” then becomes a grievance that activists use as a weapon to indict all men as complicit in “rape culture.” This grievance-mongering does nothing to increase the safety of women, but does enhance feminism’s political authority.

  24. Daniel O'Brien
    June 15th, 2014 @ 9:03 pm

    Yes, which professor suggested that the female brain was not good at math?

  25. Zohydro
    June 15th, 2014 @ 9:14 pm

    Degenerate! I denounce you…

  26. Zohydro
    June 15th, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

    And Belvedere, as well!

  27. Groty1
    June 15th, 2014 @ 9:22 pm

    This topic is something the always brilliant Heather MacDonald has written about periodically over the years. As she points out in a recent column, there is no shortage of parents willing to pay $50.000 a year to send their daughters to Ivy League campuses where – using the Obama administration statistics – the incidence of sexual assault is 400x the rate of Detroit’s reported rapes. That’s how absurd it is.

  28. cmdr358
    June 15th, 2014 @ 10:16 pm

    You may be on to something Bob.
    “Another cause was thought to be the retention of female semen, thought to mingle with male semen during intercourse. This was believed to be stored in the womb. Hysteria was referred to as “the widow’s disease”, since the female semen was believed to turn venomous if not released through regular climax or intercourse.”

    Sounds reasonable to me…:-

  29. cmdr358
    June 15th, 2014 @ 10:27 pm

    Digital systems back in the 80’s?
    You mean like fingers and toes, hands and feet?

  30. Adjoran
    June 16th, 2014 @ 12:16 am

    Not sure of the cause or source, but there are definitely some venomous women out there.

  31. Adjoran
    June 16th, 2014 @ 12:17 am

    My late mother’s favorite: “Figures never lie, but liars sure do figure.”

  32. Adjoran
    June 16th, 2014 @ 12:19 am


    Unfortunately, the tendency of the leftist when challenged and unable to counter a point is to begin name-calling, finger-pointing, grievance-asserting, and privilege-checking. At maximum volume.

  33. Adjoran
    June 16th, 2014 @ 12:21 am

    It CANNOT “fit into rape culture theory” because that would be rape!

  34. Escher's House
    June 16th, 2014 @ 8:15 am

    That is the consequence. There are men who are suing their colleges over denial of their due process and their equal protection rights, including under Title IX. Eventually, that should put a stop to this nonsense.

  35. ZION'S TRUMPET » Words Will Mean What Liberals Want Them To Mean
    June 16th, 2014 @ 8:36 am

    […] ‘Statistical Voodoo and Elastic Definitions’ […]