Shoddy citation habits, distorted data, now par for the course in another wayward column from Margaret Wente.
The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente has been on a tear lately. Her target? Universities, lazy students, feminist professors, and sloppy research. But do Wente’s practices merit a passing grade? In one of several recent articles, she mocked three student “faces” of the Occupy movement. None of the borrowed profiles and quotes were properly attributed, and one individual, “John,” turned out not to be from the Occupy protests at all. His bio and quote came from a U.S. Democratic Party webpage about student loans, an error finally acknowledged by an Editor’s Note.
Wente’s most recent target is the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which she presents as part of a “grievance industry” that must “stretch its definitions of assault and abuse to ridiculous extremes to keep its numbers up.” Wente contrasts the association’s “cooked up” numbers with the declining rates of rape cited in Steven Pinker’s new book. “Pinker’s data come from the U.S. Bureau of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey, and are the best there are,” she writes. This may be true. What Wente fails to recognize, however, is that if the bureau’s data are, indeed, “the best there are,” then her claims fall flat.
Wente writes: “The American Association of University Women … reports that 62 per cent of women at university say they have been sexually harassed. A quarter of all university women say they’ve been victims of rape or attempted rape.” That first figure comes from a 2005 AAUW report. The second seems to be from the association’s Facts and Figures page, which provides the following information:
- “95% of attacks are unreported … ”;
- “20-25% of women will be raped or experience attempted rape during their college career”; and
- “3% of college women nationally have experienced rape or attempted rape during the academic year.”
Unlike Wente, the AAUW provides sources for its statistics, and, surprise – all three figures are from the same “best there is” source (the U.S. Bureau of Justice) that Pinker relies on (in this case, the data is from the bureau’s 2000 report on college campuses). So it seems that it is Wente who “stretches” definitions and numbers.
Furthermore, neither the AAUW nor the Justice Bureau claim that “a quarter of all university women say they’ve been victims of rape or attempted rape.” Researchers distinguish between reported incidents within a survey’s limited time frame and extrapolated, projected estimates: The number of women who “say they’ve been” raped is not the same as the number who “will” or “might be” raped – a difference Wente elides when rephrasing the results.
The Justice Bureau’s “Sexual Victimization of College Women” report (2000) notes that the single academic session for which data was gathered represents half a calendar year. The bureau multiplied its results (2.8 per cent of college women were the victims of rape, or attempted rape, during the given time period) in order to estimate the risk for the full length of a college education: “Over the course of a college career … the percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher education institutions might climb to between one-fifth and one-quarter” (emphasis added).
If the Justice Bureau’s figures are “the best,” and good enough for Pinker, why does Wente cast doubt on them when a women’s group cites them? She fails to recognize that the data on the AAUW’s website are taken from the Justice Bureau at all, but, more to the point, does not take into account the date of the report cited.
By comparing the data on the AAUW’s website to that cited by Pinker in his new book, Wente is comparing old figures with new, and rates of abuse among college students with those from the general population. For instance, the statistic listed on the AAUW’s Facts and Figures page that “20–25% of women will be raped or experience attempted rape during their college career,” is taken from a 1996 survey – a date falling about halfway through the decline that Pinker notes in reported rapes. Furthermore, Pinker’s figures are from a 2009 Justice Bureau report of completed (not attempted) rapes occurring within the general population (and not strictly on campuses).
Digging herself into an even deeper hole, Wente writes: “As Mr. Pinker points out, the rate of rape is now 50 per 100,000 people, which is several magnitudes removed from [the] one in four [that the AAUW cites].” Absolutely. Decades’-old statistics about projected numbers of, attempted rapes in a higher-incidence sample would indeed be “several magnitudes removed” from 2009 figures for completed, reported rapes in a general population. Again, it’s Wente who seems to be distorting the data.
Wente claims to have more reliable data, but, to make this claim, she withholds from readers both the date and the source of statistics used by the AAUW, and misrepresents findings by altering their wording. Wente should know enough to cite sources, quote them accurately, and “show her work.”
The recycled 62-per-cent sexual harassment figure from the AAUW’s “Drawing the Line” report makes clear that the definition of harassment is broad. But Wente omits more than its breadth: She also withholds the fact that the numbers include men. According to the report, “Nearly two-thirds of college students experience some form of sexual harassment … Male and female students are nearly equally likely to be sexually harassed on campus.” The report includes a graph showing that 62 per cent of females and 61 per cent of males suffered some form of sexual harassment in the given time period.
Sloppiness and beating dead horses is what Wente claims “progressives” do. But her tirades against academics are just as tiresome. The anti-feminist axe is getting duller, rather than sharper, from all that grinding. She is, of course, entitled to her increasingly knee-jerk contrarian stance. But if she wants to use other people’s work to support her views, she needs to cite it accurately – the way you’re taught to in university.