NO STATISTICS NEED APPLY: The New York Times can’t handle stats!

MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2015

Part 1—A fiery professor’s response:
Last Sunday, March 22, the New York Times ran a somewhat snarky opinion piece about These Kids Today—more specifically, about their attitude toward “safe spaces.”

The piece was written by Judith Shulevitz. Last Thursday, we discussed the part of the essay which concerned a debate at Brown about sexual assault on college campuses.

Yesterday, that same New York Times published seven letters about the Shulevitz piece. One of the letters came from a professor at Wisconsin’s Madison campus.

For us, that letter capped a week in which we puzzled about the New York Times’ puzzling use of statistics, and about our nation’s highly tribalized pseudo-debates.

A range of reactions and views were expressed in yesterday’s letters. This afternoon, we’ll look at one letter which actually came from one of These Kids Today!

On balance, we thought that student’s approach was unwise—but then, he’s still a college student! The other six letters pretty much broke down as follows:

Two of the letters scolded These Kids Today. More specifically, students were scolded for their alleged desire to be shielded from unwelcome ideas.

The other four letters came from college professors. As a general matter, they defended the practices Shulevitz had criticized.

Students with therapeutic issues deserve to be treated with care, these professors said—and yes, we’re paraphrasing.

As we noted last week, we agree with that position as a general matter. But then too, there was the fiery letter from the Wisconsin professor.

We thought that letter deserved review. As we read it, we pictured the way such letters might serve the political interests of Wisconsin’s Governor Walker, who wants to cut state funding to the state’s university system.

We also puzzled about the letter’s one statistical claim. It called to mind our puzzling, ongoing non-debate about the rate of sexual assault on the nation’s campuses:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (3/29/15): I am dismayed by Judith Shulevitz’s belittling response to student trauma. I teach an undergraduate class on “Sexualities and Race.” We discuss challenging issues like campus rape, human trafficking, pornography and sex work. “Scary ideas” certainly. Tragically, for some students these ideas are also scary realities. My students engage these issues with intellectual rigor and great courage. Yes, I give trigger warnings, and try to make my class a safe space.

Five students in my class were recently raped. One sits at the back so she has walls behind her, close to the door in case panic overwhelms her. I wonder how Ms. Shulevitz would deal with a student triggered into a major panic attack. Or a student whose friend was murdered by a cop. Making cheap jibes at a safe room with “cookies” and “Play-Doh” infantilizes the real-life traumas these students face too young, and belittles their right to face these intellectual and personal challenges in safe ways.

ANNE McCLINTOCK
Madison, Wis.

The writer is a professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
We agree with some of the things Professor McClintock said.

Whatever one thinks of the term itself, there’s no reason why a professor shouldn’t try to make her class a “safe place” for students. Professorial discretion may help create classrooms in which students with therapeutic issues can play fuller roles.

But wait—there’s more agreement! Like the professor, we thought Shulevitz may have laid it on a bit thick concerning the Play-Doh and the cookies in the “safe spaces” which were created at Brown. (And the videotape of the puppies!)

This doesn’t mean that the therapeutic/”safe space” approach can’t be overdone in particular instances. Obviously, this approach can be poorly executed, just like everything else.

This brings us to the professor’s statement about a class she’s currently teaching. It calls to mind our nation’s ongoing pseudo-discussion of sexual assault on campus.

In the highlighted passage, the professor states that five students in her “Sexualities and Race” class “were recently raped.” She also asks how a professor should deal with “a student whose friend was murdered by a cop,” although she doesn’t claim that she currently faces this problem.

Let’s start with that second possible circumstance.

We were struck by the heroic language affected by this professor. Beyond that, we thought we may have heard cheering from Walker’s political staff.

The professor asks how she should deal with “a student whose friend was murdered by a cop.” For starters, we would suggest that she make sure that the “murder” has been reported. But we’d also suggest that she give some thought to her fiery language.

Professor McClintock plays the hero with this fiery language. On a political basis, she also plays into conservative hands.

How many students at Wisconsin have had a friend “murdered by a cop?” We have no idea. But we’ll guess the number is small.

That said, our fiery professors have been heroically tossing that language around in the past several years. On campus, their daring behavior may turn them into heroes.

In the wider political world, this language has sometimes blown up in our tribe’s face—although our most heroic professors will rarely acknowledge such facts.

Pols like Walker thanks the gods for such exciting language. It makes it easy to tell a state’s voters that Our Kids Today are in the hands of These Professors Today—that the state’s exciting professors are pushing “agendas” on campus.

Heroic professors of this type may serve as a curse on progressive interests. This brings us the professor’s factual claim—the statement that five of her students “were recently raped.”

Needless to say, we have no way of knowing if this statement is accurate. We aren’t sure how the professor herself could know that this statement is true, although everything is possible.

That said, university postings seem to show that the class in question contains only 36 students. This calls to mind one of our nation’s puzzling non-debates and the statistical claims which fuel it.

Is a “rape crisis” occurring on college campuses? Over here in the liberal world, we keep saying yes.

Last year, Rolling Stone decided to offer the perfect example. Its astounding non-journalistic behavior quickly blew up in its face.

That said, dueling statistics are floating around about the rate of sexual assault on our college campuses. Here’s the problem:

These dueling statistics seem to paint wildly divergent portraits of the basic facts. And uh-oh! To all appearances, major newspapers like the New York Times simply aren’t up to the task of dealing with such statistics.

Last week, the Times floundered badly in several important high-profile areas:

On Wednesday, Catherine Saint Louis (and her editor) did a miserable job with some new statistics about the gender wage gap. Many commenters noted the problems with this news report.

On Tuesday, Matt Apuzzo presented some fascinating new statistics about police shootings in Philadelphia. At one point, though, he offered a rather strange assessment of one of those new statistics—and he failed to note the way his new statistics connect to recent high-profile discussions about police behavior in Ferguson.

Last Sunday, Martin and Haberman made a standard ridiculous claim about school closings in Chicago. Yesterday, Fareed Zakaria adopted a standard statistical ploy about the state of the nation’s schools, in a typically underfed piece for the Washington Post.

We were especially struck by the Times’ reports about the gender wage gap and about police shootings. We were also struck by Professor McClintock’s one statistical claim.

That said:

In one area after another, the nation’s Potemkin public discourse is riddled with puzzling statistical claims—about arrests and shootings by police; about sexual assault on campus; about achievement in public schools; about the gender wage gap.

In other high-profile debates, the most fundamental statistics are constantly going AWOL.

In all these areas, the assessment of basic statistical claims seem to be well beyond the skill level of our most famous newspapers. In part as a result, the nation’s different tribal groups just keep advancing their favorite tribal claims.

All too often, in recent years, the tribal group has been us!

Why can’t the New York Times do a better job with basic statistical claims? To what extent does the Times simply defer to preferred story lines?

To what extent do our fiery professors make themselves heroes while helping politicians like Walker? Is this anything like the gigantic fail by the Stone?

We’ll be asking these questions all week! By the end of the week, we’ll even look at the dueling claims about the rate of assault on campus—and about the large percentage of students who don’t even know they’ve been raped!

Our craziest claims used to come from the right. At this point, is there any chance that The Crazy is coming from us? And when The Crazy comes from us, do we undermine liberal interests?

Later today: The student’s letter

69 comments:

  1. Gee, how many of Somerby's favorite themes are thrown into this stewpot?

    Let me count:

    1. Campus rape. Check.
    2. Cop-involved homicide. Check.
    3. Gender wage gap. Check.
    4. School closings in Chicago. Check.
    5. Achievement in public schools. Check.

    And let us never forget that Rolling Stone forever destroyed, with a single story, any hope of any real, enlightened discussion about campus sexual assault.

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    1. I am frankly much more concerned with the damage being done in Wisconsin. The state, which once elected Joe McCarthy to the U.S. Senate, has a Governor who was elected twice and survived a recall in between. Clearly he will be able to inflict even greater pain because some "Professor" wrote a letter to the editor that made her a hero on campus. Walker might even be able to turn Wisconsin into a "right to work" state now.

      If only we all could act more like M'one and Malala.

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    2. Gee, @12:28 you show troll-like thoroughness, but you overlooked the number one theme of late:

      STUPID PROFESSORS.

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    3. "...Rolling Stone forever destroyed, with a single story, any hope of..."

      First post, first bullshit attempt at paraphrasing Somerby.

      Go, team troll!

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    4. Yes, Somerby has strict rules against paraphrasing in order to arrive at what a favored target "seems" to say.

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    5. That said, @ 1:29 a commenter cannot take Bob too literally or else he/she reveals symptoms of brain injury or mental disorder to the chief of Commentary Diagnosis.

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    6. Which is why the remaining fans come in pretty handy when they tell us what Somerby really, really means as opposed to what he wrote.

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    7. Considering how many times Bob Somerby has gone out on a limb to do that for Al Gore, even to this very year, it is great to see many follow his fine example. Sometimes those with undergraduate degrees from Ivy league schools fail to express themselves clearly. Fuzzy thinkers need fervent friends.

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    8. There is a rumor that Al Gore is thinking about running for President again.

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    9. Campus sexual assault happens and will always happen as long as women behave carelessly, creating situations in which potential jurors would be expected to take her word in the absence of any other evidence. Which will never happen and shouldn't. In societies requiring evidence for convictions, college men inclined to rape will always be able to rape as long as women deny these realities.

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    10. Ezra Klein is all for it @ 3:47.

      We have, in fact. elected people President who ran and lost as major party nominees. I can't think of a single person who got elected President after seeking but failing to get his or her party's nomination.

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    11. My goodness, I forgot the miracle of the Reagan Revolution. Well, there is hope Hillary can follow in St. Ronnie's footsteps. That might be better than Al following the Nixon precedent and letting the media kick him around some more.

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    12. Nixon won the presidency after making his kick-around speech, after losing the race for gov of CA.

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    13. When the troll has no argument against Somerby, he complains about topic choice.

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    14. @12:58, you've got to be kidding, LOL, do you really think the modern day pseudo gives a rat's ass whether WI or anywhere else is "right to work"? 30 years ago labor issues still held some sway, but today the Nu-lib couldn't care less. Today it's all about the politics of racial identity, gender, and "lifestyle" issues. At best pseudos view the working class as a curiosity, at worst, as highly suspect. Somerby is the least of your problems, corporate "liberal" media and the pseudos who defend it threw your interests under the bus years ago, and apparently you don't even realize it.

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    15. 9:30 PM - you might avoid standing in the wind without earmuffs. The whistling sound might drive you even battier than you are now.

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    16. 9:25 PM - when a troll-whiner has nothing to say, he complains that trolls have nothing to say.

      FTFY - you're welcome.

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  2. Why are these instances of rape and murder portrayed as left/right issues? Aren't liberal and progressive policy concerns correctly aimed at the support of working class and middle class citizens?
    If some right winger starts mouthing off about the death penalty, then right away some liberal will hit them with all the stats showing that draconian punishments do not deter criminal activity. Where is that understanding expressed in these individual cases where there is absolutely no policy follow-through?
    Where sensible economic policy would help millions into working class lives, why do we know more about the forensic details of these singular events than what the government usually does when the private sector doesn't create enough jobs?

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    1. I don't know why. Perhaps if more cogent thinkers and writers like you and Bob Somerby spoke to these economic issues we might learn about the causes of wage stagnation instead of being buried in the twelve year old ash accumulation from the eruption of Mount O'Donnell.

      Express some understanding for us. Please.

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    2. There are some excellent blogs that focus on economic issues. Would you like some actual links or are you just interested in complaining about Somerby?

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    3. You must be @ 12:53.

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    4. Wrong. 12:53 here. I did not respond to your reply because you are a tar-baby.

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    5. @ 4:35 here @ 5:33. You did respond to my reply. I didn't make the earlier comment. @ 3:46 is the one who did not reply. You may be right about @ 1:04 but your comment at 12:53 indicates you need to pop the hood and check the dipstick.

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  3. Warning to casual readers: Some agree with some of the things Blogger Somerby said. They do not comment because the comments are unmoderated by the blog author, making it an unsafe place. Many have had flashbacks to painful traumas, like the 2008 Primaries where partisans of the unqualified one who got nominated said things that hurt their fee-fees. This is reflected in the bitter effort to capture self esteem you will read here from time to time. Fortunately the blog author does not bother to read them some seem to suggest.

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    1. I'm glad trauma is all a big joke to you. It suggests you haven't experienced any, which I wouldn't wish on anyone, even a troll.

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    2. Either that or I am autistic, brain damaged, or have one of many mental disorders you and/or other keepers of the Howler flame keep "traumatizing" others with in your intelligent responses, often when you don't get your disclaimer in first.

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    3. No, you are mainly a jerk. Why do you keep saying the disclaimer person is (1) female, (2) the mental diagnosis person, (3) upset about anything you write?

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    4. Because she is.

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  4. Statistics on "New York Times Can't Handle Stats"

    Number of NY Times articles linked by Bob: 4
    Number of statistical errors identified by Bob: 0

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    1. Number of Howler Fans refuting Bob's goose egg: 0

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  5. The professor's statement that five students were recently raped may be true. Students who have experienced trauma tend to enroll in classes that will help them deal with their experiences. In my psychology classes there are a disproportionate number of students with mental illness, and quite a few veterans with TBI or survivors of car accidents who have had brain injuries. They want to understand the effects on their thinking, just as rape victims want to try to understand what happened to them in both a personal and a societal sense. It is part of coping. Similarly, students with young children are overrepresented in developmental psych courses.

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  6. George Will wrote a controversial column which implies that being a rape victim confers status on college campuses. I think that helps explain the large number of supposed rape victims in this one class.

    I don't think that the 5 alleged rapists were duly convicted of raping these women. I doubt that 5 men have been charged by the police for these alleged crimes. Do you these 5 women even reported being raped to the police?

    Or, like me, do you suspect that some women in the class identified themselves as once having been raped, because they gained status by doing so?

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    1. You're wrong. Being ANY kind of "victim" confers status. It's the best thing going.

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    2. Which explains why all the white Christian conservatives rushing to proclaim themselves victims at the hands of these affirmative action hires and admissions not to mention gay married couples.

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    3. I feel really sorry for all rapists.

      For all these years, I and many others believed that rapists were at fault for rape. Now I come to find out that it is campus political correctness and women who are at fault.

      It's epiphanies like this that make me glad I visit the Daily Howler and its comments section.

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    4. 6:50, if you accept the premise that there are rapists on campuses and always will be (and if you don't you're very unintelligent), then those who refuse to advise women to take responsibility for themselves are indeed at fault right along with rapists.

      You believe not uttering that politically incorrect reality out loud somehow reduces or eliminates rape. It never has and never will.

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    5. "Those who refuse to advise women to take care of themselves" = false premise in your house of cards.

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    6. Threat of rape is how men restrict women's lives. It is wrong.

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    7. I was going to make a joke about Christians in Indiana and "victim status", then I remembered Pence signed that law to protect bigots, not victims.

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  7. By "rape culture" do they mean the left guaranteeing more rape by screaming bloody murder every time someone promotes the best means by which women can avoid rape?

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    1. You of course refer to the "stay sober and avoid parties where men consume alcohol" means of rape avoidance.

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    2. If women stay indoors and never go anywhere without a male relative, avoid public buses, don't work outside the home, dress modestly (preferably with only eyes showing), I'm sure they will avoid rape too, although maybe not stonings.

      When men get falling down drunk their buddies take care of them. When women do, they get raped. Why aren't men taught to take care of and protect women who are drunk? That's why there is talk about rape culture.

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    3. By all means, libs, teach your daughters to go to strange men's apartments and dorms because they "have a right not to get raped." Unfortunately when they do, no one will convict the rapist because there will be no evidence other than her accusation. Those who promote this moronic approach are to blame for consequences along with the rapist.

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    4. 8:36, there will always be men who weren't successfully "taught" to protect women who are drunk. Staking young women's safety on your wishful thinking that you can eliminate bad behavior in college men is stupid and not an argument.

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    5. Shorter 10:03 PM & 10:05 PM - they're just askin' fer it

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    6. You can make the same argument about any crime. People are not animals. They can control their behavior. It isn't right to restrict women's lives for the convenience of men. Men need to take responsibility for their behavior and be held accountable for failure to do so.

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    7. Hey, it was women who let George "God's Plan" Zimmerman walk.

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    8. 10:17 it is my guess 10:03 and 10:05 are one and the same and doesn't need you to make his shorter and/or smaller.

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    9. Women need to be trained to carry a gun and aim for the small stuff.

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    10. "It isn't right to restrict women's behavior." No but it's right to tell them if they don't, and they are raped, no jury will or should convict their rapist if the only evidence is her word against his. Defendants will not and should not be held accountable if there is no evidence other than an allegation. This is the reality, and failure to advise young women of these facts simply because one cannot bring herself to openly acknowledge self-restriction is the only rational course of action for women who hope to avoid being raped by men they barely know ensures more rapes happen with impunity.

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    11. 11:24, women would likely not convict a rapist in the absence of any evidence other than an allegation. Just as many women have sons of college age at risk of false allegations as daughters of college age.

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    12. 10:17, there is a difference between "she is asking for it" and "any idiot knows that when they engage in X behavior, they are at great risk for Y." X being drunkenly going home with a barely known male and Y being male raping, never being charged or winning acquittal if he is. Your approach is feel-good, brain dead and facilitates rape.

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    13. Shorter 3/31@235 & 241 - women are 2nd-class citizens. Get over it.

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    14. All the "shorter"ing in the world isn't going to change the facts on the ground. Recognize them or cause more rape.

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  8. Maybe all five students were recently raped all together at one time, like at a campus fraternity party. Have their backs been checked for shards of broken glass? Those frat boys don't mess around. Someone should really get on that.

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    1. Got any 9/11 or Holocaust jokes benny?

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    2. Are you saying they were hoaxes too? Naughty, naughty troll ....

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    3. 9/11?
      Is someone here really making the arguement THAT was important? Didn't know we had Truthers here too.

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    4. majneb,
      Making jokes bout hoaxes is OK?
      Awesome. Cue the Tea Party jokes.

      Berto

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  9. When the professor said "Five students in my class were recently raped." he meant ALLEGEDLY raped. Liberals think rape and alleged rape are the exact same thing.

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    1. And conservatives don't give a shit either way.

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    2. When @ 9:22 alleged the professor was a man when her name is Anne he showed he can't read. His conservatism has nothing to do with. He can take personal responsibility for his own stupidity.

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    3. Benny's sister wanted to be a truther but the guy who accepted the meager dowry wanted her to have a slew of kids instead. Those little guys hate it when their uncle comes over for a holiday meal.

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  10. In other recent events not likely to be covered by Bob S.:

    Chris Hayes had the director of a new HBO documentary on the Church of Scientology on his program last week. The documentary premiered last night.

    I found it supports Lawrence's notion in his 2008 "eruption" that Scientology and Mormonism share theological similarities.

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    1. Every religion and ideology does. All you need to do is review the logic of race hustlers pimping Trayvon and Brown long after sane people understood there were no racial motives.

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    2. Anonymous at 2:30 pm,
      Brown was killed by a white gang member.

      BTW, the DOJ report on the Ferguson Police explains what race hu$tling is all about.

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