Part 3—Bumping statistics way up: Of the universe, Professor Russell once said, “It’s turtles all the way down.”
Today, the famous professor would surely be able to make out his error. Consider what happened when MIT conducted a survey among its students about harassment, rape and assault.
For yesterday’s post, click here.
First, the university’s scholars constructed a long, bewildering set of survey questions. At times, the survey reads like it was translated from the Norwegian by native speakers of Urdu.
At some point, the survey was taken by MIT students. Last week, MIT issued a report on its findings—a report which is extremely hard to interpret.
The New York Times then swung into action, praising MIT for the “clarity” of its work. So it tends to go inside our elite press.
The survey produced a bewildering pile of statistics. MIT didn’t explain when the survey was given.
How many undergraduates who responded were in their first or second years at the school? That didn’t get explained either.
Whatever! Jumbled though the report may be, one statistic did leap out, a statistic which seems fairly straightforward. According to Table 2.1, five percent of undergraduate women seem to have said that they’ve been raped while students at MIT.
Presumably, the statistic was larger among women in their senior years. But let’s stick with that five percent figure:
Given the seriousness of the crime which is being alleged, that strikes us as a very large number. Apparently, though, the number wasn’t large enough for the brass at MIT.
Here’s why we say that:
When we read the New York Times news report, we were struck by the extent to which Richard Perez-Pena emphasized a certain complaint:
According to several observers, MIT students weren’t willing to acknowledge how often they’d been raped and assaulted. In paragraph 5 of the Times report, the chancellor—she’s is in her mid-50s—issued a sad complaint about These Kids Today:
PEREZ-PENA (10/28/14): “Sure, the data tells us things that we maybe didn’t want to hear,” said Cynthia Barnhart, chancellor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But she said one of the clearest—and most disturbing—conclusions she drew from the results was that “there is confusion among some of our students about what constitutes sexual assault,” indicating a need for more open discussion.The children weren’t willing to say how often they’d been assaulted! Luckily, though, Chancellor Barnhart knows best.
So does Professor Foubert, an expert on these matters at a distant university. Before we review the lament he offered in the Times report, let’s review the part of the piece which highlights a “disturbing” problem concerning the students’ “confusion.”
In the passage shown below, Perez-Pena laments the way the MIT students weren’t willing to jack up the numbers. We’ll focus on the passages which concern claims of harassment:
PEREZ-PENA: M.I.T. asked about several forms of unwanted sexual contact, from touching to penetration, “involving use of force, physical threat or incapacitation,” that it said clearly constituted sexual assault—the kind that 17 percent of undergraduate women and 5 percent of undergraduate men said they had experienced. In addition, 12 percent of women and 6 percent of men said they had experienced the same kinds of unwanted sexual contact, but without force, threat or incapacity—some of which, depending on the circumstances, can also be sexual assault.Damn kids! They refuse to acknowledge the frequency with which they’re being raped and harassed. Or so we might think if we’re willing to swallow Perez-Pena’s apparent stenography.
Yet when asked if they had been raped or sexually assaulted, only 11 percent of female and 2 percent of male undergraduates said yes.
There was a similar result on sexual harassment. Among undergraduate respondents, large majorities of men and women said they had heard sexist remarks and inappropriate comments about people’s bodies; more than one-third said someone had uttered crude sexual remarks to them directly; nearly as many had been subjected to people’s tales of sexual exploits; and a smaller number had received offensive digital messages. About one woman in six said someone had repeatedly asked her for a date, even after being refused.
But the number who described what had happened to them as sexual harassment was relatively small: 15 percent of undergraduate women, and 4 percent of men. Also, 14 percent of women said they had been stalked, and 8 percent said they had been in a controlling or abusive relationship.
We’ll suggest that you shouldn’t do that. For starters, look at the kinds of behavior Perez-Pena seems to list as sexual harassment.
According to Perez-Pena, large majorities of undergraduate students “said they had heard sexist remarks and inappropriate comments about people’s bodies.” And not only that: “More than one-third said someone had uttered crude sexual remarks to them directly.”
The world would be a better place if people weren’t exposed to sexist remarks, inappropriate comments or even “crude sexual remarks.” It would be better if youngsters weren’t “subjected to people’s tales of sexual exploits.”
Depending on the circumstances, such experiences can be annoying. But as he continues, Perez-Pena seems to scold the youngsters for failing to denounce such experiences as “sexual harassment.”
Question: Why would anyone describe those experiences that way? More specifically, why would intelligent college students describe those annoying experiences in the way Perez-Pena seems to want?
We don’t know how to answer that question. On their face, the experiences Perez-Pena lists don’t seem like obvious instances of “harassment” to us. Why in the world is a Times reporter complaining that MIT students weren’t willing to list them as such?
Do you mind if we cut to the chase? A surprising fact seems to appear all through the Times report:
Perez-Pena and other elites seem less concerned about the fact that substantial numbers of young women at MIT say they’re being raped during their time on campus.
They seem more “disturbed” by the fact that the youngsters won’t overstate the hideousness of their experiences. Later, Perez-Pena clucked about the students again, and Professor Foubert sounded off:
PEREZ-PENA: Large numbers of undergraduates, male and female, also agreed with statements suggesting that blame for the assault did not always rest exclusively with the aggressor. Two-thirds agreed that “rape and sexual assault can happen unintentionally, especially if alcohol is involved”; one-third said it can happen “because men get carried away”; about one in five said it often happened because the victim was not clear enough about refusing; and a similar number said that a drunk victim was “at least somewhat responsible.”Let’s be fair. We’re forced to rely on Perez-Pena’s account of what the chancellor and the professor said about these matters.
Such views were less prevalent among graduate students, as was sexual assault itself.
Dr. Foubert said he considered many of those responses a form of “excusing the perpetrator and blaming the victim,” and was very concerned about it.
It’s possible that Barnhart and Foubert were sane and balanced in their overall statements. But as we read Perez-Pena’s report, no one seems disturbed by the fact that many young women at MIT say they’re being raped while students at MIT.
Instead, these people say they’re disturbed and deeply concerned because the students aren’t willing to say they are being “harassed” when they hear a sexist remark.
In our view, Perez-Pena’s report is straight outta Bedlam. Because it appeared in the New York Times, very few people noticed.
In the world of that New York Times report, nobody cares about the fact that many young women say they’re being raped at MIT. Instead, our elites were concerned because those same young women failed to say that dumb remarks constitute harassment!
Professor Russell, please take note:
Lunacy lies at the heart of the Times, where it’s actually narrative all the way down. Narrative, and the desire to jack up preferred statistics.
Tomorrow: Amanda Marcotte and that recent Pew survey