Science Matters: Why George Will’s Math Is Wrong

By Christie Wilcox | June 10, 2014 7:21 pm
George "let me do the math" Will. Photo by Keith Allison

George “let me do the math” Will.
Photo by Keith Allison

In a recent opinion piece for The Washington Post, George Will decided to do a little math based on two “crucial and contradictory” statistics mentioned in the President’s recent report:

A. 20% of college women are sexually assaulted during their tenure at the university, and
B. 12% of rapes are reported to law enforcement

His overall message is that, clearly, women are lying about being assaulted to gain the “privilege” of victimhood, based on this mathematical argument:

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.

Or, to put it into math equations:

98 reported assaults (at Ohio State) = 12% of the assaults that occurred

98 / 0.12 = 817 (total assaults)

817 / 28,000 = 0.029;

which means only 2.9% of the 28,000 female students at Ohio State have been assaulted.

Therefore, the 20% statistic is far too high, thus women must be lying about assault.

Here’s the thing: experimental design matters when it comes to statistics. There are several ways you can go wrong when interpreting statistics, any of which can be accounted for if you simply pay attention to the science that generated them—which George clearly didn’t.

I could start by saying that only around 40% of college students finish in four years, so limiting the math to four years is already problematic. But even without that, the real math adds up. Here’s what Willy missed:

1. The number of reported assaults by the university in a given time period does not equal the number of reported assaults that have occurred on women enrolled in that university during that time period. That’s because universities only report assaults that occur “on campus”: literally on campus, on public property adjacent to campus, or in buildings owned by a student organization. So any assaults that occur at, say, a bar, during spring break abroad, or at a person’s privately-owned apartment are not accounted for. According to The Sexual Victimization of College Women by the National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 33.7% of rapes occurred on campus. If we assume the figures are similar for sexual assault, that 98 reports = 33.7% of the total, thus Ohio State’s women would have reported 291 assaults in total (to appropriate other authorities) from 2009-2012.

291 / 0.12 = 2,425 total

2,425 / 2800 = 0.086

which means 8.6% of the female student population has been assaulted.

I’m not done.

2. The 12% statistic applies to the reporting of rapes of college women to law enforcement (source), not sexual assaults to college authorities. While George complains about the broadness of the sexual assault definition later on in his rant, the fact is, the 12% statistic can’t be applied to all sexual assaults, as sexual assaults that don’t end in forced penetration are much less likely to be reported. If we want to be more accurate, we can look at that same study mentioned in 1), which found that less than 5% of college women reported completed or attempted rapes. Which means that 291 (which we got from the 98 reports only being 1/3 of the total reports) actually = 5% of the real number of assaults.

291 / 0.05 = 5,820 total

5,820 / 28,000 = 0.207

which means 20.7% of the 28,000 female student population has been assaulted.

By the numbers, Ohio State’s 98 reported sexual assaults on campus does translate to 20% of the female student population being sexually assaulted in their four years of undergrad.

What I find distressing, though, about George Will’s tirade is that when his numbers didn’t add up, he didn’t think critically about what the numbers mean and where they came from. He didn’t research the source of the data or determine if they were compatible, and instead, he willfully tried to minimize the assaults that 1 in 5 college women say they have personally experienced (which, for the record, comes from several. different. studies.). He looked for a loophole, rather than applying critical thinking. And that’s not even mentioning that he cherry-picked a single institution instead of looking at the total data, which is readily available from the U.S. Department of Education.

I don’t know which is worse: if George simply doesn’t have the critical thinking skills required to evaluate information, or if he intentionally ignores them so he can twist data to fit his predetermined viewpoint.

 

 

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  • bopeep

    Ms. Wilcox, I love you for this.

  • http://dvschroeder.blogspot.com Dan S.

    Thank you for this explanation. I figured it must be something like that, and as you say, the lack of critical thinking is outrageous.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Alice Parker

    You go, girl! This is important to point out!

  • Smarter than Your Average Bear

    not to mention that most women, at least historically, do not report sexual assaults/rapes

  • Bruce Martin

    Thank you for the clear explanation. My guess is that George Will just jumped to the conclusion he thought fit his presumption of things his world-view assumed, and he didn’t want to try thinking if he could be wrong. From his work with baseball, I think he was able to have done what you did. But his pre-judging let him choose not to use his skills. He’s a sad case, and should retire ASAP. Thanks again.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    The difference between seduction and rape is salesmanship. A society that prevents brothels has no right to whine about overflow. It sells the dialectic of outrage,

    http://mazepath.com/uncleal/classes.htm

    • Jonathan Roth

      No, the difference between legitimate activity and illegitimate activity is CONSENT.

      Theft is not a purchase with poor bargaining skills.
      An assault is not a boxing match with terrible promotion.
      Rape is not bad seduction technique. It’s a willingness to commit assault.

      The legality of prostitution has nothing to do with rape. What’s so special about prostitution that masturbation doesn’t provide?

  • Hayden Smith

    Critical thinking skills are not the same as statistics savvy. Hello? NOW HEAR THIS: Statistics are abused by George Will, Barack Obama, your insurance company, climate change-hysterics, and your next-door neighbor. I’m glad you called it out and I learned once again the wisdom of Mark Twain’s observation that you have “Lies, damnable lies, and statistics.
    (Perhaps you should have pointed that the original statistics used were a bit misleading in the context they were presented: an apples to pineapples comparison.)

    • 8DX

      WAAAAH! I was schooled on complicated math by a girl! WAAAAH!*
      *translation of your comment

  • http://flewellyn.livejournal.com Flewellyn

    “I don’t know which is worse: if George simply doesn’t have the critical thinking skills required to evaluate information, or if he intentionally ignores them so he can twist data to fit his predetermined viewpoint.”

    I humbly submit that both possibilities are true: George Will does not really understand science, statistics, critical thought, or much of anything else except how to bloviate on matters he knows nothing about; AND, he has his Dunning shoved so far up his Kruger that he doesn’t care to research anything beyond what’s necessary to fit his confirmation bias.

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    • BrightMind

      Apparently you also suffer from a limited ability to reason. Why else would you resort to ad hominem insult?

  • Audio7

    Well done.

  • GoldenBoy

    Sigh.. Feminists poisoning everything…

    • BruceMcGlory

      Yeah, with their whole logical, rational, reasonableness and their stupid math and science! WHy can’t they be whiny trolls like you!

      • BrightMind

        They are whiny trolls.

  • san_ban

    But you’re just a woman, and the people whose violations are being minimized are just women, so none of this counts.

  • Tick Nebula

    I stopped worrying about anything George Will has to say after his response to global climate change was, and I paraphrase, “it’s hot because it’s summer.”

  • Anton_Mates

    One other huge problem: The 12% number comes from interviewing randomly-selected female college students and asking them whether they reported their assaults. The Ohio State numbers are based off crime statistics provided by law enforcement agencies. Even if these figures were comparable in all other ways, which they’re clearly not as you point out, the police don’t automatically tick off +1 sexual assaults every time a woman reports that she was assaulted. If they don’t believe her, if they think her story’s inconsistent, if they don’t think her story fits their definition of assault, and sometimes if the phase of the moon is wrong, then they will not conclude that a crime was committed.

    It is utterly unsurprising that a sample of women would say they reported X assaults, yet law enforcement agencies would say that far fewer than X assaults actually happened. And not because women like to fabricate rape stories for kicks.

  • thegibbo

    So far as I can tell, this

    • Larry

      You’re confusing input and output. The output result is “What fraction of female students at Ohio State are sexually assaulted during their time there” The input data are the following:

      (1) There were 98 reported sexual assaults over the 4 year period
      (2) 66% of rapes occur off campus
      (2a) A corollary to (2), assume that if 66% of rapes occur off campus, then 66% of all sexual assaults occur off campus
      (3) Only 5% of any sexual assaults are reported
      (4) Only 12% of rapes are reported, which is not part of this calculation since we’re dealing with any sort of sexual assaults.

      From data (1), (2a), and (3), we can calculate that ~20% of women at Ohio State are sexually assaulted at some point during their time there.

      • BrightMind

        I wouldn’t doubt that 40 or 50% of women at Ohio state had a sexual liaison which they subsequently regretted. And i wouldn’t doubt that in 40 or 50% of those cases it was convenient for these women to consider the sexual encounter they regretted an assault. So it is not surprising that 20% would self report that they had experienced a sexual assault. The question is what percentage of these self reported assaults were actually assaults.

  • jugheadnaut

    You aren’t correcting math, you’re just using your preferred set of statistics while misrepresenting the statistics that Will’s source is using.

    But Will’s source makes clear that the 98 reported assaults in 4 years figure includes not only on-campus assaults but also in university residence halls, on nearby non-campus property, and on public property adjacent to campus. No doubt this accounts for a much, much higher percentage of sexual assaults than 33.7%.

    Then you’re rejecting the 12% reporting rate figure (used by the White House report, no less) for college sexual assault as too high. You again use your own selected study, the same one as in the previous point, that claims a reporting rate of 5% for rape and attempted rape instead. As far as I can tell, we really have no idea what the reporting rate is for sexual assault. But that’s how you comes up with a number that is consistent with the claim that 1 in 5 college women are sexually assaulted. In a nutshell, you botch one statistic and then simply substitute your own figure for one you don’t like. Nothing to do with math.

    Your accusation that Will suffers from a lack of critical thinking may very well be true, but it goes double for you. When the numbers don’t “add up” to the figure you prefer, Will just accepts it, but you start looking for statistics to torture to make sure it does add up to the right number.

    • Chakat Firepaw

      I suggest that you go back and actually read the article. Your points of criticism were specifically addressed.

      Some hints for you:

      The 98 reports do include getting attacked in the park next to campus or in a frat house but they do not include the women who are raped on a spring trip to Florida.

      The 12% reporting rape is for what would be considered a subset of “Aggravated Sexual Assault”[1] where I happen to be typing from, while the 20% victimization rate is for all kinds of sexual assault.

      [1] Subset because there are other ways to result in the aggravated charge. Such as through the use of a deadly weapon which performing an act that would otherwise be a simple Sexual Assault.

      • jugheadnaut

        Oh, I read the article. The problem is that you and Ms. Wilcox didn’t properly read the Sexual Victimization study she referred to. While it doesn’t formally define ‘on-campus’ vs. ‘off-campus’, it does state that ‘bars and nightclubs or student residences close to campus’ count as off-campus. Most of these would be included in the ‘on-campus’ definition that Will’s source used. So the 33.7% correction is completely bogus. Just out of interest, didn’t that 33.7% figure sound absurdly low if they were including university residence halls, nearby non-campus property, and public property adjacent to campus? Or did you just accept it because it led to a result you wanted? Yes, the 98 reported sexual assaults figure won’t include every reported sexual assault, but the exceptions (vacation, trip back home, etc.) are clearly a small minority.

        I’m having trouble figuring out what you’re getting at in your second point. My point is that she simply ignored the 12% figure from the White House document (referred to by Will) in favor of a figure from a study she selected. This has nothing to do with correcting Will’s math. And I think that study needs to be viewed with some skepticism. The 4.8% law enforcement reporting rate for completed rape is far below any other figure I’ve seen on the subject. In fact, if you use its numbers for sexual assault (e.g. 0.8% for ‘completed sexual contact with force or threat of force’), using the math above you can come up with sexual assault figures much higher than 20%. But it’s really just hand waving at this point.

        • Anton_Mates

          While it doesn’t formally define ‘on-campus’ vs. ‘off-campus’, it does state that ‘bars and nightclubs or student residences close to campus’ count as off-campus. Most of these would be included in the ‘on-campus’ definition that Will’s source used.

          No, they would not be included. Will’s source used the Ohio State annual crime reports; here’s the 2013 edition. Like other universities, Ohio State follows the Clery Act when defining its reporting region. It explicitly excludes “businesses or private residences adjacent to the campus.” No bars, no nightclubs, no privately-owned houses.

          Just out of interest, didn’t that 33.7% figure sound absurdly low if they were including university residence halls, nearby non-campus property, and public property adjacent to campus?

          ….no? Most sexual assaults don’t occur on the street, and 75% of Ohio State students live in off-campus private housing. It’s hardly surprising if the majority of assaults on students occur on non-university-owned private property.

          My point is that she simply ignored the 12% figure from the White House document (referred to by Will) in favor of a figure from a study she selected.

          No, she didn’t. She pointed out that the 12% figure comes from a study that looked specifically at rape, and not other forms of assault. The other study she selected did look at other forms of assault, and found even lower reporting rates for them than it did for rape.

          You can argue that the 12% figure is more reliable than the 4.8% figure for the reporting of rape–the former certainly comes from a more recent study. But Wilcox has the numbers on her side when she says that the reporting rate for sexual assault in general is likely lower than this. (Even in the more recent study, that 12% number drops to 7% when we’re talking about rapes involving drugs or alcohol.)

          • jugheadnaut

            Did you look at the crime statistics chart in the Ohio State document (pg. 44)? I hadn’t previously, and was taking Will’s source (Mark Clery) at his word on what it included. But, sure, he could be wrong, so I checked it out. The chart includes reporting figures for both campus and certain off-campus locations (university residence halls, nearby non-campus property, and public property adjacent to campus). The number Clery compiled included both, so he was describing it correctly. So I’ll say once again, and hopefully this time definitively, the 33.7% correction is bogus.

            The reporting rate that Wilcox used was for rape, both completed and attempted. The study actually does include a breakdown for non-rape sexual assault, and as you would expect the numbers are much lower. So why did she use the 5% number and not a lower one? I can only presume because she wanted the result to be consistent with the 20% figure. If it was much higher, it would have indicated some pretty big problems with her approach. And the overarching issue is that we really don’t what the reporting rate is for something as nebulous as sexual assault, so this is just pick-your-number hand waving.

            In closing, I want to be absolutely clear on something: Will/Clery have no more grounds to say these numbers disprove the 20% number than Wilcox has grounds to say it backs it up. A pox on both houses here.

          • Chakat Firepaw

            You continue to show that you haven’t been reading what you claim to be reading. Go read the article again, the 66% of ‘off campus’ rapes are for things like private homes, bars and just about anywhere not even in the same city as the campus. IOW, your ‘certain off-campus locations’ _are_ already in the 33%.

            And yes, we can get a reasonable estimate of the reporting rate, by doing studies that use a series of questions to find out incidents have occurred[1]. As for a smaller reporting rate resulting in ridiculous victimization rates, you do have to remember that sexual assault isn’t like chicken pox: It can happen to you more than once.

            Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret: If you are trying to show that someone’s claim that “X is clearly false” is itself wrong, you only need to show that X is reasonably likely to be true.

            [1] A series of questions is used to avoid the issue of people answering ‘no’ because they think ‘what bobby did to me doesn’t count’. On the sexual assault front, these give reasonably consistent results for women in college, (15-25% depending on what is being counted and the time period involved).

          • jugheadnaut

            I’ve read not only this article but the relevant sections of both Wilcox and Will’s source documents. It’s apparent you haven’t because there isn’t one iota of doubt that the Ohio State Report includes off-campus sexual assaults that aren’t covered by the on-campus 33.7% statistic from the Sexual Victimization of College Women. I’ll make it easy for you:

            1) While the Sexual Victimization of College Women Study (https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf) doesn’t formally define what it means by on and off-campus, they specifically state that student residences close to campus are considered off-campus (page 19). They are probably using the Clery definition of off-campus, which would include such residences, frat houses, the buildings of student and other organizations related to campus activity, and public spaces adjacent to the campus. Or they may just be relying on the interpretation of the survey participants, which would make this finding of the study almost useless.

            2) The Ohio State report (http://www.ps.ohio-state.edu/campus_safety/Annual_Security_Fire_Safety_Report.pdf) has a chart (pg 44) where they explicitly show campus and off-campus sexual assault reports. Will’s source Mark Perry was including both. (http://www.aei-ideas.org/2014/05/using-white-house-claim-of-under-reporting-only-1-in-36-women-at-ohio-state-are-sexually-assaulted-not-1-in-5/).

            So, there’s no question the 33.7% correction was misused by Wilcox. There are still some sexual assault reports not covered by the Ohio State report (in bars/nightclubs/private homes off campus, out of town), and if you want to hang your hat on these being a large fraction of the total reports, be my guest and welcome to fantasy land. I would think the large majority of off-campus sexual assaults occur in off-campus student residences and frat houses, which are counted in Perry’s figures but not in the 33.7%.

            On the issue of reporting rate, if it’s so easy to get an estimate, why are the numbers from different studies all over the map? Wilcox could have justifiably chosen a lower reporting rate from the Women’s Victimization study (pg 31) that took into account far lower rates for non-rape sexual assaults. But she didn’t, presumably because she wanted her final result to match up closely with the 20% victim figure. This actually bothers me most of all; that she would cherry pick a number to achieve a particular result. For a scientist, this is a cardinal sin.

            And to restate from my last post, Will/Perry’s conclusion was clearly unfounded, mostly because of the problem with reporting rates. But Wilcox’s sneering mess of a blog post needed refuting.

          • Chakat Firepaw

            Here’s another little secret: Off-campus residence generally refers to things which are privately owned rather than a dorm that happens to be some distance away.

            Try reading the Ohio report again:

            “NON-CAMPUS
            1. Any building or property owned or controlled by a student organization that is officially recognized by the institution; or

            2. Any building or property owned or controlled by an institution that is used in direct support of, or in relation to, the institution’s educational purposes, is frequently used by students, and is not within the same reasonably contiguous geographic area of the institution.”

            IOW, stuff that is counted in the 33% figure. (N.B.: That is a string of ands in #2.)

            Now, why do you get reporting rates that are ‘all over the map’? Because different studies are looking at different things, (generally the less severe the incident, the lower the reporting rate).

            Your ignoring of the fact that Ms Wilcox only needed to show that the 20% figure was reasonable is noted.

          • jugheadnaut

            One and only one last try because you have major issues with comprehension even when things are spoon fed to you. The 33.7% figure from the Sexual Victimization of College Women study is the percentage of sexual assault reports that are on campus. You are making the preposterous claim in your last post that this number includes non-campus sexual assault reports according to the Clery definition. Get that? You are saying their on-campus number includes non-campus numbers.

            Reporting rates differ across studies measuring the same thing. The source used by the White House report had a 12% figure for rape (which the report mischaracterized as being for sexual assault). The Sexual Victimization study had a 4.8% figure for completed rape and a 4.2% figure for attempted rape. You can find other figures that count pretty much the same thing if you google. While Wilcox is right that the reporting rates for sexual assault are lower than the reporting rates for rape, the 5% figure she used is for rape and attempted rape, not sexual assault. Again, she simply cherry picked the figure that would give her the end result she wanted, which was a sexual assault victimization rate of 20%

            It’s pretty easy to show the 20% figure is well within the bounds for reasonableness, especially with the nebulousness of sexual assault. That’s not my point here. My point is that Wilcox made a hash of it. She misused one statistic and cherry picked another to get a desired result. Especially given that this is a science blog and the headline of this story states ‘science matters’, I think its highly relevant to point it out.

          • Anton_Mates

            There are still some sexual assault reports not covered by the Ohio State report (in bars/nightclubs/private homes off campus, out of town), and if you want to hang your hat on these being a large fraction of the total reports, be my guest and welcome to fantasy land. I would think the large majority of off-campus sexual assaults occur in off-campus student residences and frat houses, which are counted in Perry’s figures but not in the 33.7%.

            For the love of Pete, for hopefully the last time, most Ohio State students live in private homes and apartments off-campus. The university barely has any official student housing off-campus. The dorms are on campus. The frat houses are not, but most students living off-campus don’t live in the frat houses, and frankly the frat row has a better reputation crime-wise than the neighboring student houses do. You know how every time the Buckeyes have a big game, people in Columbus are in the news burning couches and flipping cars with Michigan license plates? This is the neighborhood we’re talking about. The private landlords are even more tolerant of insane partying than the fraternities are, because they don’t have college administration looking over their shoulder.

            (Not that most assaults happen during wild mass house parties. They happen in your home, or in your friend’s home, or in a bar or a club.)

            I don’t expect you or Will or Perry to know these kinds of details off the top of your head for any given university, but this is exactly why going “I refute your silly academic research with my crime stats skimmed off the net in ten minutes!” does not work. Like Wilcox says, research design matters.

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          • Anton_Mates

            Did you look at the crime statistics chart in the Ohio State document (pg. 44)? I hadn’t previously, and was taking Will’s source (Mark Clery) at his word on what it included.

            Yep, I did. And Will’s source is Mark Perry. The Clery Act is the federal law which regulates how colleges disclose their crime statistics.

            The chart includes reporting figures for both campus and certain off-campus locations (university residence halls, nearby non-campus property, and public property adjacent to campus). The number Clery compiled included both, so he was describing it correctly.

            Nearby non-campus property owned by the university or a university recognized student organization. This still does not include bars and clubs and the private houses & apartments in which, again, about three quarters of OSU students actually live. I’m really not sure how to make this clearer for you.

            For that matter, “public property” consists of the streets and sidewalks and city-owned parking lots that are accessible and directly adjacent to the campus. An assault that happens on a street corner one block away from campus, or inside a public building across the street? Does not count. An assault that happens on a street that touches campus, but is separated from it by a wall or fence that people don’t normally cross? Does not count. An assault that happens in a privately-owned parking lot that touches the campus but has no special contract with the university? Does not count.

            (You can read more than anyone ever wants to know about defining these location categories here, skip down to page 18.)

            The study actually does include a breakdown for non-rape sexual assault, and as you would expect the numbers are much lower. So why did she use the 5% number and not a lower one?

            Perhaps she wanted to be conservative in her argument. The study she cites did not calculate an overall reporting rate for all assaults, and even though she used the highest reporting rate for a subcategory, it refuted Will and Perry’s argument. If she had chosen any of the other reporting rates, it would imply that their argument is even more wrong, but I don’t see the need.

            I can only presume because she wanted the result to be consistent with the 20% figure. If it was much higher, it would have indicated some pretty big problems with her approach.

            No, it would be consistent either way. 20% is the estimated national mean, but individual institutions will have rates that vary around that mean. It would not be statistically weird if OSU turned out to have an assault rate that was considerably higher than 20% for the years in question. (In fact, I would guess that it probably does. When I attended OSU, it was known for exceptionally high prevalence of binge-drinking and date rape.)

            Will/Clery have no more grounds to say these numbers disprove the 20% number than Wilcox has grounds to say it backs it up.

            Fortunately, Wilcox does not need to prove the 20% number using OSU’s crime stats. Will and Perry are attempting to disprove it that way, but Wilcox need only show that the numbers are consistent in order to refute them. The positive evidence for the specific 20% number comes from the study that produced it, not from Perry’s Online Crime Stats Amateur Hour.

          • jugheadnaut

            Sorry about the Clery/Perry mixup. I realized this after submitting the comment and already made the correction in later comments.

            I think it’s pretty clear that off-campus residences are included in the off-campus Clery definition from the OSU report. But here’s what’s very simple and absolutely beyond doubt: the OSU report includes certain non-campus sexual assaults, which Perry uses in his tally, and the 33.7% figure from the Sexual Victimization study does not. Hence, the 33.7% figure is wrong for the purpose Wilcox is using it for.

            You’re being awfully generous in thinking maybe Wilcox was just being conservative in picking a higher reporting rate that just covered rape and not sexual assault, and then just happened to get the 20% sexual assault victimization figure she was looking for. I’ll go with the the much simpler explanation that doesn’t require a big coincidence: she was cherry picking to get her desired result.

            I’m not defending Perry’s work here, which I agree is Amateur Hour. I’ll reiterate from a previous comment: my point is that Wilcox made a hash of her critique. She misused one statistic and cherry picked another to get a desired result. Especially given that this is a science blog and the headline of this story states ‘science matters’, I think it’s highly relevant to point it out

          • Chakat Firepaw

            You really need to read the Ohio report more closely: Even if you were to remove the “Non-Campus” assaults it would not significantly change the end result as they represent only about 15% of the cases. Since we only need a result with one significant figure, (as the question is “is 20% reasonable?”), +/-3% in the final figure is neither here nor there, (as 20-3=20 [1]).

            You also need to read the NIJ report a bit more carefully. While it does not make a formal on/off campus definition, it does make clear reference to a frat house being ‘on campus’, (something that would be ‘non-campus’ in the Ohio report). Combining this with the fact that the vast majority of ‘on campus’ assaults occurred in living quarters means that most of the ‘non-campus’ assaults in the Ohio report are going to be ‘on campus’ for the NIJ.

            To be honest, your whole complaint boils down to: “When trying to get a result a bit better than a Fermi estimation, she used data only a bit better than typically used in a Fermi estimation.”

            [1] You can go elsewhere for a lesson in significant figures.

          • jugheadnaut

            Sigh. I can probably just let my earlier comments stand, but I’ll add one more thing. The defense in your last paragraph boils down to: “She may be wrong, but she’s less wrong than Will”. She’s still wrong. Which is all I was pointing out.

          • Chakat Firepaw

            Yes, you can let your earlier comments stand. There’s no sense in you continuing to dig.

            And no, it’s “she’s not trying to get an exact number in the first place.” As has been pointed out to you, and which you have conceded, the whole point of the article is to show that the claim “this victimization rate is clearly wrong” is itself wrong. The article does so by attacking the ‘clearly’ part.

            Sometimes, when working on an estimate, you have to use numbers which aren’t the best. However, you do want to try to use numbers which will give counteracting errors, (e.g. a high reporting rate which lowers the final result, but the assumption that every incident has a unique victim which raises it).

          • Jesus H. Christ

            Jughead, you’re quite the jackass.

    • jugheadnaut

      I’m not sure if anyone is paying attention to these comment threads anymore with the possible exception of my two interlocutors (the smart one and the not-so-smart one), but let me say two nice things about Christie Wilcox.

      1) I have much respect for the fact that no censorship of my comments took place despite my withering criticism. You don’t always see that, especially when this is the subject.

      2) With only a moderate rewrite, this would have been a very effective takedown of Will’s column. All she had to to is point out the 12% reporting figure was too high because it was for for rape only, not sexual assault, and at least some sexual assault reports at OSU wouldn’t have been covered by Perry’s tabulation. She could have come up with reasonable guesstimates based on the studies she was looking at, keeping clear they were guesstimates, that show the numbers are consistent with, though do not necessarily imply, the 20% victimization rate. But no, she didn’t want to just rebut Will’s column but eviscerate it and in so doing went too far and ruined her argument. So, Christie, in the unlikely event you’re reading this, keep in mind for the future that when you have the facts on your side, sticking rigorously to the facts can be a much more effective scalpel than polemics.

  • 8DX

    I think it’s just that men are naturally bad at maths, and have to have these things explained to us. (Thanks, btw!)

  • Warham Pendrich

    Why anyone would defend or minimize rape is beyond me.

    • http://oceanoxia.wordpress.com/ alteredstory

      Well, minimizing it means that the problem is less urgent. Generally, conservatives dismiss the notion that there are real problems to be addressed with regard to the treatment of women in this country.

      They don’t like the notion of feminism, in general, and they scoff at the notion of anything like rape culture.

      It has become, for some, a part of the conservative identity (rather like climate denial), and so in order to hold on to their identity, they seek ways to ignore or dismiss things that might call it into question.

      EVERYBODY does this, but there are ways in which the conservative movement seems to have turned it into an art form.

      If 20% of women are sexually assaulted in college, that means there’s a serious problem. If 20% of food in America made us ill, people would be CLAMORING for government intervention.

      Because they don’t believe there’s a serious problem, and because they KNOW that scientists and feminists are all liars, there must be something wrong with the numbers, and Will thinks he found the problem.

      That’s my take, anyway.

  • Joseph Schmoe

    George Will clearly has dementia setting in. He’s gone completely off the rails, and it’s time for the Washington Post to fire him.

    • BrightMind

      Great exegesis of the article.

  • rlhailssrpe

    This article is simply false argument. The author sets up Will, even squinting into the sun, and attacks him with falsities. Google his rebuttal to Senator Feinstein et al.

    In summary, Will reported, he did not do the math. He references WH reports and Mark Perry’s mathematical analyses on the topic.

    Will’s point is that sexual assault is a crime, not a campus misconduct. He does discuss the vagaries between consensual conduct and criminal conduct and insists that our governance respect the coequal status of men and women before the law. But not pursue unwise regulatory actions against institutions e.g. watered down civil standard, “preponderance of the evidence.” Contrary to this article, his argument does not rest on “the woman is lying”

    This article’s validity rests on one’s view whether a rape during spring break, hundreds of miles from campus constitutes a basis for university sanctions. Or a police matter. If the victim worked at Home Depot, but was on vacation, would these facts legally change enforcement against the institution?

    If we are to make progress, we must cease using red herrings.

  • ThisNameInUse

    For those who are sick of Mr. Will’s 1950′s sensibilities offending the country from the pages of the Washington Post editorial page, please realize that he will stay there as long as Fred Hiatt (one of the chief cheerleaders for our invasion of Iraq eleven years ago) is in charge of the editorial page. Incredibly, Hiatt has already defended Will’s outrageous language that rape victims enjoy “a coveted status that confers privileges”.

    The Post can do better than these unaccountable voices with values that are more at home in the hills of Afghanistan than the modern West. Please sign the petition to clean up the Post’s editorial page:

    http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/washington-post-fire

  • blaher

    Christie Wilcox ‘Science’ = you win an argument by ‘debunking’ a side anecdote which is meant to merely illustrate the games the cult of victimhood plays with your own statistical chop suey.

  • ronaldmsonntag

    Oh Geez! Talk about arguing about how many angels dance on the head of a pin! Get this straight. No percentage of rape, abuse, coercion, discrimination, marginalizing, diminishing behavior towards woman is acceptable. Will, you are arguing a devil’s bargain. Even if you are right, do you really feel victorious?!!!

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About Christie Wilcox

Christie Wilcox is a science writer and PhD Student at the University of Hawaii, where she studies the protein toxins in venomous fish. She is renowned in the science blogosphere for her delicate balance of contemporary science and scientific perspective seasoned with just the right amount of wit. Her award-winning posts have been featured in The Open Laboratory: The Best Science Writing On Blogs four years running and landed on the pages of major media outlets including The New York Times and Scientific American. To learn more about her life and work, check out her webpage or follow her on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.

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