THE WAY WE ARE: Discussing a very important topic!


Part 1—Chancellor Barnhart knows best:
What is the nature—the actual nature—of our nation’s public discourse?

Consider a news report in last Tuesday’s New York Times. The news report treated an extremely important topic.

At some (alas) undisclosed point in time, MIT conducted a survey among its students about sexual assault on its campus. At the start of last week, the institution released a bewildering report on the survey’s findings.

People shouldn’t get assaulted on MIT’s campus or anywhere else. As he started his news report, Richard Perez-Pena presented the headline finding:
PEREZ-PENA (10/28/14): In a rare, detailed look at sexual assault and harassment on a university campus, M.I.T. revealed Monday that among undergraduates who replied to a survey, at least 17 percent of women and 5 percent of men said they had been sexually assaulted.

That is similar to the findings of a handful of other studies, including a frequently cited survey in which 19 percent of undergraduate women said they had experienced sexual assault, or attempted sexual assault. But there have been few surveys that looked at experiences and attitudes at particular colleges—and victim advocates said they knew of none with the clarity and depth of the M.I.T. survey.
Perez-Pena praised “the clarity” of the survey. With genuine sadness, our analysts simply said, “Wow!”

In truth, the clarity level of the survey strikes us as very low. As an example of where that can lead, consider paragraph 11 in Perez-Pena’s report:
PEREZ-PENA: Yet when asked if they had been raped or sexually assaulted, only 11 percent of female and 2 percent of male undergraduates said yes.
“Sexual assault” is a somewhat imprecise term. For ourselves, we can’t tell you how many students get assaulted or raped at MIT during their undergraduate years.

That said, the topic is extremely important—but uh-oh! Despite the clarity of MIT’s work, we’d already received two different numbers about what undergraduate women said in the survey, which may have been conducted last spring or maybe in the fall of this academic year.

(Yes, this would make an actual difference, if we actually want to know how often such conduct occurs.)

Let’s review:

In the first paragraph of his report, Perez-Pena reported this fact: At least 17 percent of undergraduate women said they had been sexually assaulted during their time at MIT.

By paragraph 11, the number had changed. According to that paragraph, 11 percent of undergraduate women said they had been raped or sexually assaulted.

More accurately, “only” 11 percent of undergraduate women made that claim, according to that second passage. Therein lies one of the many tales which emerge from this extremely murky, multiply-bungled survey cum news reports.

In fairness to Perez-Pena, a reader can tease an apparent explanation for his dueling statistics. Below, you see the fuller presentation surrounding that second, smaller statistic.

We highlight the apparent key words:
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.

Yet when asked if they had been raped or sexually assaulted, only 11 percent of female and 2 percent of male undergraduates said yes.
According to that passage, it looks like 17 percent of undergraduate women said they had been sexually assaulted—if you accept MIT’s definition of the term.

But when they were directly asked, alas! “Only” 11 percent of undergraduate women said they’d been assaulted or raped.

Does that explain the dueling statistics in Perez-Pena’s report? We can’t say we’re entirely sure.

The MIT survey was so voluminous
that you pretty much had to drop out of school for a year to answer all its questions. The survey was also remarkably murky.

In our view, MIT’s report on its findings is also quite unclear.

After several attempts to figure it out, we can’t say we’re entirely sure how MIT derived that larger percentage, which may well understate the amount of misconduct women experience during their undergraduate years. But then, confusion and chaos seem to be the hallmarks of this survey, and of the news reports about its findings.

At best, Perez-Pena’s statement in his opening paragraph was incomplete and thus highly misleading. Viewed in a less charitable way, his statement was simply false.

There’s certainly nothing new about that in New York Times news reporting! On the other hand, you can’t completely blame Perez-Pena for the confusions which suffuse his high-minded report. We’d say that MIT’s performance in this matter was incompetent throughout.

What happens to undergraduate women during their four years at MIT? In part because of this murky survey, we have no clear idea.

That said, there is one statistic in this report which is fairly easy to state and interpret. Among undergraduate women who completed the survey, five percent directly said that they had been raped while at MIT.

That strikes us as an horrific figure, especially if we understand the nature of this survey. In a survey of undergraduate women, many of them still in their freshman year, five percent said they’d been raped during their time on campus.

That number strikes us as horrific. Apparently, though, the number wasn’t large enough for MIT’s chancellor, Cynthia Barnhart, a civil engineering professor.

In this New York Times news report, Chancellor Barnhart clucks about the real problem here. An insufficient number of students said they’d been raped or assaulted!

(Out at Oklahoma State, Professor Foubert also knew best.)

Are we the American people able to conduct a real discussion of any serious topic? This MIT survey raises that question in brilliant fashion. So do the floundering attempts to write “news reports” about the survey’s findings.

Is everything just “storyline” now? Perez-Pena is whispering to us:

Yes, he seems to have said.

Tomorrow: A monument to confusion

Again, links to MIT documents: Perez-Pena didn’t link to any MIT documents. We checked several other news reports. They too provided no links.

We had almost decided that MIT didn’t release the text of its survey. Finally, we found a news report which did provide a link.

Prepare to be confused:

For the text of the voluminous survey, you can just click here. For MIT’s report on its findings, you can just click this.


  1. A good survey should ask the same question in multiple ways, then compare the answers. The authors of the survey should provide some interpretation about what conclusions to draw which should have provided some guidance to the news reporter.

    1. Precisely what the MIT survey did and the reporter accurately presented.

      Based on your informed prescription this was a good survey.

    2. The reporter should take it a step further and help readers interpret the results, not just report seemingly conflicting numbers (as Somerby states they did). The fault is not with the survey but with the reporting of it.

    3. The fault is your taking Somerby's word for anything. Read the article. Read the report. Somerby is the problem, not the survey or the Times reporting of it.

    4. Deadrat, that is beyond lame.

      "Now maybe the date is importand or maybe it's not . . ."

      Ya think that whether it was done in spring or fall might not be important? Well, Somerby certainly thinks its important! And for reasons he also fails to share with his fans.

    5. How did that get up here? The response is intended for deadrat below, who offers his lamest defense of his hero yet.

    6. @1:03 -- If you have some criticism of Somerby's reporting, please state what it is instead of directing us to go read the report and compare it with Somerby's summary. When I have done that in the past, it has been a waste of time because he is generally correct. I don't want to read a report on rape and I am not going to do your work for you. Either state how you think the reporter actually did clarify the survey results (and how Somerby was mistaken) or shut up but don't send people to a link instead of making your case.

    7. Well, 2:28, allow me to apologize for the suggestion that you do your own thinking. After all, Bob is always right as rain, so why bother? That about the gist of it?

      "I don't want to read a report on rape". Yep. Speaks volumes about you, doesn't it.

      But you want to read a report that discounts a report on rape, and talk about how brilliant and always-correct its author is.

      Look, I hate to disillusion you, but Somerby has given this whole issue about as much deep thought as you have.

      In other words, he found another reason to bash both the NYT and women who cry rape -- or income equality, or lack of access to birth control in health insurance plans that cover erectile dysfunction -- and he ran to his computer with more of his brilliant thinking.

      And like always, when fact doesn't fit those brilliant thoughts and conculusion he has, he will do one of two things.

      1. Ignore them and hope they disappear.

      2. Make shit up that is 100 percent the opposite of the truth, knowing full well that loyal fans like you will take him at his word.

      Well, this is why this blog has gone to hell in a handbasket, and no longer has the readership of a local blog from a 14-year-old kid reviewing the latest Slipknot CD..

    8. Somerby isn't bashing women. I am female and I have heard as much about rape as I need -- this is an issue men need to be addressing. I don't believe Somerby makes stuff up. It is too easy for you to come here and claim he is doing that, without any evidence, and simply post a link as proof. And you call me lazy! The rest of your hostile remarks about Somerby demonstrate well enough that you are just a troll, here to waste everyone's time.

  2. "At best, Perez-Pena’s statement in his opening paragraph was incomplete and thus highly misleading. Viewed in a less charitable way, his statement was simply false."

    At best Somerby's post is further indication that he has little or no idea about sexual assault, and when it comes to journalism presented in the New York Times, his misleading of his readers is blatantly dishonest.

    It won't take readers a year of missing class at MIT to read the report. It takes about 10 minutes. Then read Perez- Pena's article again, then Somerby's false misleading post.

    There is a lot in between paragraph 1 and 11 that Somerby left out of his biased presentation of the work of the Times.

    There is little wonder Somerby has such trouble with other issues that primarily have a negative impact on women, like the 77 cents on the dollar statistic.

    What do you think Somerby seems to be whispering?

    1. One thing he is whispering is that he can't read!

      Writes Bob in paragraph 3:

      "At some (alas) undisclosed point in time, MIT conducted a survey among its students about sexual assault on its campus."

      The opening of the MIT report, with heading:

      "Survey Results: 2014 Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault

      In Spring 2014, President Reif charged Chancellor Barnhart with exploring and understanding how sexual assault affects the MIT community. Chancellor Barnhart gathered information through a variety of formats, including a survey administered to all MIT graduate and undergraduate students."

      "Alas" my ass.

    2. This doesn't say that the survey itself was conducted in 2014. It says the report was made in 2014. It says Chancellor Barnhart collected information in a number of ways, one of which was the survey. In Spring, the Chancellor was charged with doing the study. The excerpts you have quoted do not state when the survey was actually conducted. Given that the academic year runs from Sept to May, it matters at what point in the year you are surveying freshmen (who may even have just arrived on campus). When you "charge" someone with doing a survey and when the survey is actually conducted are two separate events.

    3. Well Bucko, if she was "charged in the spring, and the report was issued in the fall, chances are the survey took place sometime between spring and fall of 2014.

      Alas, your defense of Somerby reveals you to be a bigger idiot than he is an ass.

    4. ...chances are the survey took place sometime between spring and fall of 2014.

      Where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah. In TDH's blog entry: "[the survey] may have been conducted last spring or maybe in the fall of this academic year." TDH says it's important that MIT say which and the reporter should report which.

      Now maybe the date is important or maybe it's not, but if you don't want to seem like the biggest idiot in the discussion, you might want to address the point being made.

      Just sayin'.

    5. deadrat, let us respond to you in Somerbese, a language you often defend with little or no apparent comprehension.

      In paragraph 3 Bob says the time of the survey was undisclosed. By paragraph 8, that lack of date had changed to specualtion that it "may have been conducted last spring or maybe in the fall" of 2014, an indication Bob had an inkling of the year in which the survey took place, even though he said the date was undiclosed. However, the murky usage of "may" and "migh have" could be interpreted to mean that the date could have been an earlier year.

      That said, Somerby goes on to suggest the difference between a fall and spring survey date is important because:

      "(Yes, this would make an actual difference, if we actually want to know how often such conduct occurs.)"

      In our view, Somerby actually never explains how an actual difference in how often an actual conduct can actually occur or, for that matter what conduct he is talking about, based on when a survey is taken. Unless he is talking about the conduct of the survey itself, in which case a fall and spring date might mean it was conducted twice.

      Seriously deadrat. You want me to argue the nonsense of Somerby's suggestion that a fall or spring date is going to make a difference in the number of times a sexual assault occurs?
      You actually want me to engage in an actual discussion of such inanity?

    6. Freshmen arrive on campus in early Fall. If they have only been on campus a month or two there is less chance of experiencing a sexual assault than if the survey is conducted in Spring, when they have been there for nearly 9 months. Academic years are different than calendar years.

    7. You ever consider that this survey may have been open to all students to answer for quite a long period of time? Say, three or four months to compile the data, then another couple of months to assemble it and write the report?

      Or are you going to continue to pick the same nits Somerby picks and worry how valid a survey is that was answered by 35 percent of the student body because you don't know whether it was conducted in the spring or the fall?

    8. The point is that the reporter who wrote the story was vague so we have no good answer to this question. Maybe you care about the question, maybe not. Many news reports are superficially informative if you have no intellectual curiosity about what is being reported.

    9. @ 3:48's point is that Bob Somerby said bad things about the reporting so we have no good answer to a meaningless question.

      The survey date was disclosed. Spring. 2014.

      Commander Somerby and his Lost Planet Airheads

    10. Ah, but they forgot to say "8:21 a.m. April 14th through 5:14 p.m. May 4th, stopping only for lunch and quick naps."

      Thus Somerby and his remaining five or so sheep will remain eternally confused about the specific date, which also allows them to -- once again -- write off the whole thing.

      Surprise, surprise.

      Doggone those uppity, noisy feeemale wimmen anywho! Always making me feel all funny inside and everything.

    11. The survey was not conducted in Spring 2014. They were charged with conducting it (asked to do it) then. That means the survey had to have been done sometime later.

    12. The survey was conducted in Spring, 2014. That is what the report says. In its opening line.

      Want more, denialist?

      "MIT Health & Wellness Surveys: Tips from Developing the 2014 MIT Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault (CASA) Survey

      In late Spring 2014, MIT's Chancellor sponsored a survey to understand how sexual assault affects the MIT community. The survey was sent to all current MIT students and a sample of recent alumni."

      Now buzz off.

    13. So why didn't the reporter say that?

    14. Because nobody but nitwit Somerby readers cared until Somerby raised it as a false issue because he was too stupid to understand the words "In the Sping of 2014" with which the MIT report he belittled began.

      Shall we try this again?

    15. You actually want me to engage in an actual discussion of such inanity?

      Really, what you engage in or don't is of little consequence to me. What little preference I have is for discussions on the blog's topics, which is in this case the failure of reporting.

      "When" is the third of journalism's six W's, and the when in this case is late May. I know that only because I read what MIT says about it's survey, and they say that's when the survey closed. It seems the NYT might want to nail that down. Does it make a difference if the date is left unspecified in the NYT? Does that matter?

  3. I'm highly skeptical that even 1% of MIT undergraduate women were raped. Nevertheless, to the extent that any legitimate rape actually occurred it is likely due to 2 factors: 1) Non-asian minorities (NAM's) and 2) alcohol consumption. Get rid of those 2 factors and the incidence of rape on any campus will be microscopic.

    1. Welcome to your new readership, Somerby.

    2. MIT -- that famous party school?

  4. If the goal is to reduce sexual assaults, then it's important to know which types of "rapes" have been occurring at MIT. How many involved physical force? Threat of physical force? Lack of consent? Two drunk or drugged to give valid consent?

    OTOH if the goal is to use a statistic to gain political power on campus, then an undefined use of the term "rape" is fine.

    1. David, the rapes ALL lack consent. It is scary that, as a grown man, you do not understand this. You need to get your act together because these hairs cannot be split in California.

    2. Yes, the right-wing echo chamber spin is that this issue always comes down to deciding which rapes are really, truly "legitimate rapes."

    3. Anon, yes all rapes lack consent, of one form or another. But, some rapes involve other things as well. IMHO if you want to reduce the number of rapes, it's useful to know what types of rapes are occurring.

      E.g., suppose, (hypothetically) that 80% of the rapes were caused by a participant in sex being too drunk to give valid consent. Then an effective way to reduce rapes might be to find ways to reduce drinking.

      Or, suppose 80% of the rapes were (hypothetically) caused by a man physically overpowering a woman. In that case, an effective way to reduce rape might be to provide self-defense training for women or even to encourage them to carry a weapon.

    4. "Anon, yes all rapes lack consent, of one form or another. But . . ."

      David, stop pretending you know anything at all about this topic.

      You are about as expert, and equally as foolish, as Todd Aiken.

    5. Shorter Dinky: if the goal is to reduce sexual assaults at MIT, don't allow females.

    6. Beyond Dinky:

      If the goal is to reduce sexual assaults, castrate

    7. If the goal is to eliminate fender benders, castrate fenders.

    8. If the goal fits you must assent.

    9. Irishguy, I agree that I don't know anything about sexual assault on campuses. That's why I was pushing for a survey that would provide better information.

    10. I thought the chancellor called for the survey.

  5. I am sure MIT appreciates the advice on how to properly study such a complicated social issue from such a renowned authority as Bob Somerty,

    1. If you turn this around, I think you have a better point. This survey and the way it was reported by MIT were so unprofessional that a non-specialist like Bob could point to big weaknesses. How does it happen that a school filled with so much expertise could do such a crappy survey?

      Did the administrators who handled the survey lack the expertise and integrity of MIT's professors? Was the survey was always meant to be merely a political tool? I suspect that the answer to both these questions might be in the affirmative

    2. "Big weaknesses" Sure. Cause Somerby says so. Case closed.

    3. And don't forget the self-fulfiling circular logic at work here.

      If a non-specialist like Somerby says there are big weaknesses, well there must be big weaknesses.

      That the way it works?

    4. David, the threat that women must pose to you is only matched by the threat they pose to Somerby.

      Do you and Somerby hate women because you couldn't get a date in high school? Do you and Somerby hate women because you can't get a date now and are caught in a case of arrested development? I suspect that the answer to both these questions might be in the affirmative.

    5. I'm thinking they are both Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe

    6. Somerby isn't an expert in statistics. I am. That's how I know how inadequate are that survey and the way its were presented.

    7. How is rape a politcal tool, DinC?

    8. You may have some statistical skills, Dinky, but you need to work either on your typing or your grammar or both.

    9. 6:03 -- The alleged prevalence of rape on campus has given power to feminists.

    10. Not only are you a racist scumbag, you are also a misogynist scumbag.

    11. No, David, you CLAIM to be an expert in statistics. Pardon me if I choose not to take you at your word. It's really not very good.

      Incidentally, you also claim expertise, or to have a very close relative with expertise who has shared it with you, about any subject that comes up.

      Then you open your mouth and prove yourself wrong.

    12. Don't leave out his vast experiential database, from which he can draw an anecdote that proves the right wing position on any topic is correct.

    13. Being an expert in statistics doesn't make you an expert in survey research. Based on your lack of understanding of sexual assault, I wouldn't trust you to write a survey on it.

    14. Honestly don't you social justice warriors ever get tired of calling anyone who disagrees with you a racist or a misogynist? I can assure you that the great American middle is getting VERY tired of it. Ignore the silent majority at your peril. There WILL be a great and terrible reckoning...

    15. 1049: Don't you open-carry types ever get tired of threatening anyone who calls a known racist and misogynist a racist and misogynist? As for the "silent majority" bs, look where that got Spiro Agnew.

    16. "Don't leave out his vast experiential database,"

      Ah yes. Like the time he participated in a two-day protest with Pete Seeger in the early '60s, but couldn't remember the exact dates, or even what they were protesting. And had he known that Seeger was a commie, he never would have protested.

  6. And check out this choice use of words:

    "In this New York Times news report, Chancellor Barnhart clucks . . ."


    1. Rape is seen by Somerby and his ilk as a feminist political issue. The Chancellor is a woman who thus must be a feminist. Thus, like the leader of the feminists, who presents bad statistics on issues like pay equity, she too must cluck.

      We give you Macho Man Bob from 8/14/13

      "Tabloidy star likes to clown: Unless you enjoy watching millionaires making convincing chicken sounds, Rachel Maddow is increasingly a waste-of-time hack. (For link to clucks, see below.)" Macho Bobby

    2. Here;s a link to Dr. Barhart's MIT bio page. Discerning readers can use Google to find out more about this woman who "clucks."

      Quite the accomplished person. As opposed to a failed teacher, failed comedian, failed op-ed columnist, failing blogger.

    3. The link:

    4. Sorry, it takes more than one poorly chosen verb to fail blogging.

    5. 10:45 - even you agree it was stupid.

    6. "Sorry, it takes more than one poorly chosen verb to fail blogging."

      It only took one poorly worded sentence from Glenn Kessler for BOB to ask, in best FOX news style "In what sense was the “ad” an actual “ad” at all?"

      That said, we doubt the other failures cited by @ 7:47 can be attributed to the use of "cluck"

    7. If it were one poorly chosen verb, you'd have a point. But Bob has a habit of reaching for the most misogynistic language he can find to use against his female targets.

      And his favorite targets are overwhelmingly female.

      Not that a true Bobfan would even notice, or care.

    8. Is the chancellor the target here or is it the reporter?

    9. Can't possibly be both, can it?

    10. @ 8:37 who do you think is the target?

  7. I note this desperate attempt to discount the entire survey:

    "The MIT survey was so voluminous that you pretty much had to drop out of school for a year to answer all its questions."

    There is a point where hyperbole is so wrong as to be laughable.

    What Bob glosses over is the fact that this survey had a 35 percent return rate. 35 percent of the student body at MIT did NOT drop out of school for a year to answer it.

    Granted, it was "self-selected" in that the respondents themselves chose to answer it, but a 35 percent return rate is quite a sample size that will tell you important things.

    And no, no single survey will tell you everything you need to know about any issue. People who aren't willfully ignorant to score political points know that. So does Somerby, although he will pretend not to for the benefit of feeding his sheep.

    But this survey is full of valuable information to direct further research, and I think the folks at MIT, especially Chancellor Barnhart, are certainly savvy enough to know that.

    Only Somerby in his lazy, pseudo-intellectual way, will pretend that this single survey should provide all the answers, and since it didn't (and couldn't possibly have done so), we'll simply write off the whole thing as "murky" so we don't have to think anymore about such a serious issue.

    1. He's concerned about the way the survey was reported, not how it was conducted.

    2. "The MIT survey was so voluminous that you pretty much had to drop out of school for a year to answer all its questions."

      Sounds to me that he is also concerned about how it was conducted.

      But don't believe your lyin' eyes. Go ahead and make up stories to cling to your belief in the Great and Mighty Bob!


  8. !!! How Dr.great Restore My Broken Marriage And Bring Back My Lover !!!

    An amazing testimony on a spell caster who brought my wife back to me.. My name is Jessica Krall ,i live in United Kngdom,and I'm happily married to a lovely and caring wife,with two kids.A very big problem occurred in my family seven months ago,between me and my terrible that she took the case to court for a divorce.she said that she never wanted to stay with me again,and that she didn't love me anymore.So she packed out of my house and made me and my children passed through severe pain. I tried all my possible means to get her back,after much begging,but all to no avail.and she confirmed it that she has made her decision,and she never wanted to see me again. So on one evening,as i was coming back from work,i met an old friend of mine who asked of my wife.So i explained every thing to her,so she told me that the only way i can get my wife back,is to visit a spell caster,because it has really worked for her too.So i never believed in spell,but i had no other choice,than to follow her advice. Then she gave me the email address of the spell caster whom she visited.{}. So the next morning,i sent a mail to the address she gave to me,and the spell caster assured me that i will get my wife back the next day.What an amazing statement!! I never believed,so he spoke with me,and told me everything that i need to do. Then the next morning, So surprisingly, my wife who didn't call me for the past seven {7}months,gave me a call to inform me that she was coming back.So Amazing!! So that was how she came back that same day,with lots of love and joy,and she apologized for her mistake,and for the pain she caused me and my children. Then from that day,our relationship was now stronger than how it were before,by the help of a spell caster. So, i will advice you out there to kindly visit the same websit{},if">{},if you are in any condition like this,or you have any problem related to "bringing your ex back. So thanks to the Dr great for bringing back my wife,and brought great joy to my family once again. {}, Thanks.. also contact him on his web site: