No one knows what this means: Are we humans really “the rational animal,” as Aristotle is said to have said?
Not exactly, no.
This morning, the New York Times ran an op-ed column about rates of rape and sexual assault. Iconic statistics have been floating around in discussions of this subject, each one a bit shakier than the rest.
Right at the start of her column, Callie Marie Rennison presents a relatively new statistic. This new statistic has been getting some play.
We don't know what it means:
RENNISON (12/21/14): Lately, people have been bombarded with the notion that universities and colleges are hotbeds of sexual violence. Parents fear that sending their teenagers to school is equivalent to shipping them off to be sexually victimized.Professor Rennison makes an important point. Young women who aren’t in college seem to be assaulted more frequently than young women who are in college.
But the truth is, young women who don’t go to college are more likely to be raped. Lynn A. Addington at American University and I recently published a study based on the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey data from 1995 to 2011. We found that the estimated rate of sexual assault and rape of female college students, ages 18 to 24, was 6.1 per 1,000 students. This is nothing to be proud of, but it is significantly lower than the rate experienced by women that age who don’t attend college—eight per 1,000. In other words, these women are victims of sexual violence at a rate around 30 percent greater than their more educated counterparts.
Why does all the attention go to sexual assault in colleges? We’ll let you ponder that question. For today, consider the statistic Professor Rennison presents:
“We found that the estimated rate of sexual assault and rape of female college students, ages 18 to 24, was 6.1 per 1,000 students.”
Do you understand that statistic? Frankly, we do not.
As you know, “6.1 per 1,000 students” is less than one percent. That may seem like a low percentage, since current discussions often turn on the claim that one woman in five—or even one woman in four—will be the victim of rape or sexual assault during her time in college.
Here’s the problem:
Professor Rennison doesn’t specify the time period covered by her statistic. Are 0.61 percent of college women assaulted every year? Every month? Over the course of their four years in college? During the seven years of life from the start of age 18 through the end of age 24?
Professor Rennison doesn’t explain, and her editor at the Times didn’t require her to do so. For that reason, we have no idea what her statistic means.
This is a college professor writing about an important subject in our most famous newspaper. She starts her piece with a key statistic—a statistic which goes undefined in an important way.
“Man [sic] is the rational animal,” Aristotle is said to have said. The famous saying constitutes proof that Aristotle, for all his brilliance, never had to come to terms with the work found in the Times.