Statistics and honesty…

I am starting up math research. I am out of shape for this; getting back into shape will take some time.
Here is a bit of stuff that I’ve been reading:

Religion: I remember reading a book called the Christian Agnostic by Whitehead. The gist of the book is that the honest, educated Christian is really very, very close to being an agnostic if one is really honest about what literally happened in the past and the current interactions of the supposed deity with the current universe. On a similar vein, Jerry Coyne is publishing some articles on his blog “website hosted by wordpress” which talk about those who claim to lie under the umbrella of being religious but, well….really don’t actually “believe”? I wonder of many politicians don’t do exactly that. It is hard to tell.

Why I am so frequently at odds with conservatives: Paul Krugman makes some conjectures as to why some Republicans rage at things like “fiat currency” and the like. He discusses the idea of minting a trillion dollar coin to dodge the threatened Republican obstructionism over the debt limit ceiling:

Ed Kilgore says, in a somewhat different way, much the same thing I and people like Joe Weisenthal have been saying: what we’re looking at here is a collision of worldviews, one might even say of epistemology.

For many people on the right, value is something handed down from on high It should be measured in terms of eternal standards, mainly gold; I have, for example, often seen people claiming that stocks are actually down, not up, over the past couple of generations because the Dow hasn’t kept up with the gold price, never mind what it buys in terms of the goods and services people actually consume.

And given that the laws of value are basically divine, not human, any human meddling in the process is not just foolish but immoral. Printing money that isn’t tied to gold is a kind of theft, not to mention blasphemy.

For people like me, on the other hand, the economy is a social system, created by and for people. Money is a social contrivance and convenience that makes this social system work better — and should be adjusted, both in quantity and in characteristics, whenever there is compelling evidence that this would lead to better outcomes. It often makes sense to put constraints on our actions, e.g. by pegging to another currency or granting the central bank a high degree of independence, but these are things done for operational convenience or to improve policy credibility, not moral commitments — and they are always up for reconsideration when circumstances change.

But it has been my experience that not only certain Republicans fall into this category. Some on the left do as well, provided what is being targeted for critique is one of their pet areas. Here is an example that Randaza talks about a bit (using his blend of salty, NSFW language as usual):

The idea behind this graphic:

One of the key challenges about sexual assault statistics is that it’s nearly impossible to gather accurate and consistent data about incidence and prevalence. This infographic doesn’t do a perfect job, but it combines data from several sources, both domestic and international.
* * * * *
For those of you who have asked, here is the background on the stats we used:
Some reports suggest that only 5-25% of rapes are reported to authorities. Other suggest that close to half are reported. We assumed 10%, which is dramatic, but possible.
Of the rapes that are reported, approximately 9 are prosecuted.
Of the prosecuted, 5 result in felony convictions. This is across the board for all felony prosecutions, not just rape.
Assuming that 2% of reported rapes are false and a 10% reporting rate, the graphic assumes that 2 of 1000 rapes are falsely reported (assuming a rape can’t be falsely reported unless it’s reported in the first place)

Unfortunately, what is said in the text doesn’t match the graphic. For one, the graphic shows that 30 percent of the reported cases are prosecuted and not the “9” (meaning 9 percent) that the text says. But then there are bigger problems: the numbers themselves:

Of those nine prosecutions, how many resulted in felony convictions (“jailed”)? Five, based on yet another assumption, and more undisclosed data, and again the infographic (showing that 1/3 of rapists who face trial are jailed) does not match the number provided. (If you assumed, instead, that Harris County is typical, you would find that in 2012, 172 sexual-assault-of-an-adult cases ended in dismissal or acquittal, and 382 ended in conviction or deferred-adjudication probation—2/3 held responsible, near as dammit. Texas Office of Court Administration. See what I did there?)
Finally, where does the 2% number come from? Explicitly, still another assumption. You can find a bigger and more credible number, 5.9%, here—certainly not a hotbed of rape apologists. (Note that this statistic is based on allegations being proven untrue. An unproven allegation—a “not guilty,” for example—would count as true.) If you wanted a credible reason to assume that the number was even bigger—25%—you could find it here: “Forensic DNA typing laboratories — as numerous commentators have noted — encounter rates of exclusion of suspected attackers in close to 25 percent of cases.”
The Enliven Project’s infographic is nonsense. If there’s a number in it that is anywhere close to correct, it’s purely coincidental—Beaulieu links to nothing that supports any of their assumptions.

Then there is the problem with the graphic itself: there isn’t a one to one correspondence between rapists and rapes to begin with:

The graphic assumes one-rape-per-rapist. Looking at the above picture, one might start to get the impression that every other man you meet is a rapist. Nearly one in five women have been raped, according to the latest substantive government numbers, and infographics like this might make people conclude therefore that one in five men is a rapist. In reality, a much smaller (though still troubling) number—an estimated 6 percent of men—are rapists. Your average rapist stacks up six victims. That’s hard to capture in an infographic, but could be clearer by just labeling the little dudes “rapes” instead of “rapists.” After all, the fact that most rapists are repeat offenders drives home how troubling it is that victims can’t find justice. If more rapists saw a jail cell the first time they raped someone, the number of victims would decline dramatically.

The graphic overestimates the number of unreported rapes. It’s hard to measure how many rapes go unreported, because, duh, unreported. Making it even harder to get an accurate count, a lot of rape victims don’t identify as rape victims, because it’s so stigmatized. Still, improved public education has made it easier for rape victims to report. RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), using government numbers, estimates that 54 percent of rapes go unreported. Tweaking the infographic to reflect this more conservative number wouldn’t make the image less convincing, but it would make it more accurate.

Interestingly enough, the two sources that I linked to disagree on whether false accusations are overestimated or underestimated by the graphic (note: the second source explains the difference between “false reports” and “false accusations”). But both agree on the fact that there are serious problems with the graphic.

The issue of interest to me here is that when one points out that a well intended graphic is false or misleading, one is sometimes accused of being “pro-whateverthegraphicisopposing” (in this case, “pro-rape”).

Another emotionally charged social issue is pedophilia. Note: strictly speaking, a pedophile is someone who is sexually attracted to minors below a certain age; one does NOT have to sexually assault a child to be a pedophile. Hence, BEING a pedophile isn’t a crime (acting on it is!)
So, there are professionals who study pedophiles; they seek to understand this disorder and look for treatments, therapies, ways in which someone who is afflicted with this can live and not be a threat to society, etc.

Aside from some crackpot groups (the so-called “man boy love groups”) I know of no one who thinks that it is, in any way, shape or form, ok for a pedophile to act on their sickness.

But when some professionals say that they want to “understand” pedophiles, well, you know what is coming:

Rush Limbaugh tied the push to legalize same-sex marriages to a “movement to normalize pedophilia,” arguing: “What has happened to gay marriage? It’s become normal.”

“There is a movement on to normalize pedophilia, and I guarantee you your reaction to that is probably much the same as your reaction when you first heard about gay marriage,” Limbaugh said on his show on Monday. “What has happened to gay marriage? It’s become normal — and in fact, with certain people in certain demographics it’s the most important issue in terms of who they vote for.”

He added: “So don’t pooh-pooh. There’s a movement to normalize pedophilia. Don’t pooh-pooh it. The people behind it are serious, and you know the left as well as I do. They glom onto something and they don’t let go.”

Basically someone wrote that professionals were thinking that pedophilia should be classified as a sexual orientation, separately from heterosexuality, homosexuality, etc. That in no way shape or form means that there is a movement to make acting on it “ok” “acceptable”, or anything of the sort.

The bottom line It has gotten so that I don’t talk to people who won’t at least consider competently gathered data and evidence; if someone takes a “this is right; I just KNOW it” or “my deity says” or “this is how it is and anyone who says otherwise is….” (and doesn’t give supporting evidence), I either change the subject or just don’t talk to that person. The best I can do is to ask “what bit of evidence, IF you had confidence in it, would bring you to change your mind…” and if there is no answer to that…it is time to move on.


January 9, 2013 - Posted by | economy, political/social, politics, religion, social/political | , ,


  1. In my own experiences as a criminal investigator, I would have guessed the number of “falsely accused” to be a little higher….although two may more accurately reflect the number of people actually prosecuted for those false accusations…

    Comment by Kevin | January 10, 2013 | Reply

    • Thanks for the insight; I have no “feel” for what accurate statistics might look like.

      Comment by blueollie | January 10, 2013 | Reply

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