While demolishing the substance of the false rape “in-faux-graphic” published by the Enliven Project under the ignominious title “the truth about false accusation,” Houston criminal defense lawyer Mark Bennett was kind enough to invoke Hanlon’s Razor : Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.
He may be right. He may have been too kind.
You know what I think happened? I think someone sent [Sarah Pierson] Beaulieu an email like this:
I wanted to drop you a quick email regarding your site at theenlivenproject.com and ask whether you would be interested in us making an infographic for you?
I’m sure you receive several similar guest post requests each week, so I wanted to quickly point out what I’m proposing and why this would be of value to you:
· We’ll provide you with an exclusive infographic created by us. Rather than simply sending you a text based article, we do all of the research and arrange for one of our designers to create an infographic solely for use on your site. This isn’t something that has been or will be published elsewhere.
· Some examples of infographics that we have recently designed and placed include…
Beaulieu bit, and is now scrambling to justify publishing this nonsense.
I don’t blame her. I blame the American educational system, which has created a nation of statistically innumerate consumers of easily digested but false information, including her and everyone who unquestioningly spread this graphic around the internet.
Blawgers get pitches for infographics all the time, the giveback being that they include a link to their source, usually a for-profit website seeking a backlink. This infographic, however, has no such backlink. Instead, it links to the Enliven Project post and notes it was “designed by Paul Pierson.” It’s unclear who this person is, but sharing a name with the Sarah Pierson Beaulieu might suggest a connection between the two.
Regardless, the Enliven Project makes a very big claim for itself:
The Enliven Project is a truth-telling campaign to bring sexual violence out of the closet and convert the most powerful bystanders to new allies.
If your purpose is to be a “truth-telling campaign,” then you really have to make an effort to tell the truth. As the comments to the Enliven post make abundantly clear, this infographic is astounding wrong from essentially every perspective. Even the basic math is wrong, where the made-up number of 2% false accusations is displayed as 2 people out of a thousand in stead of 20. But if they got the math right, it would still be wrong because “truth-telling” people can’t just make stuff up.
So what’s the big deal, you wonder? Isn’t the internet a cesspool of misinformation, a trap for the ignorant and unwary? Of course it is, but that doesn’t alter the ability of a piece of utter nonsense like this infographic from finding its way into the hands of people who are unconcerned about accuracy and will instead use it to promote their cause. This is how misinformation becomes part of the myth of the internet, and ultimately cleansed of its falsity so that it becomes a source of information for the future.
Yes, really. Consider, for example, the statistics provided by Roxanne Beecher, presenting as a member of the animal rights committee of the Westchester Bar Association, in support of an Animal Abuse Registry.
Ms. Beecher stated that Westchester County ranks number 9 out of 62 counties in the state for cases filed for animal abuse and this is why they are asking for animal abuser registry. She said 71% of abused or battered women report that their abuser has hurt or killed animals, 32% of battered women with children report that their children have hurt or killed animals, and 25-48% of battered women report delaying leaving their abuser for fear of their animal being abused.
She said there was a woman (not in Westchester) in a domestic violence shelter who received photos from her mother of her estranged husband cutting off her dogs ears with garden shears and he was threatening to hurt her other animals. This woman left the shelter to go rescue her animals and she has since disappeared.
Ms. Beecher continued by saying 40% of battered women report that they are forced to perform sexual acts with animals, 48% of rapists have committed acts of animal cruelty as adolescents, 30% of child molesters have committed acts of animal abuse, and 15% of active rapists also rape animals.
Pretty damning statistics, but for one problem: I was unable to find any basis for most of the statistics. From what could be found, these were made up of whole cloth. Yet the Westchester County Legislature bought it, and approved the registry. After all, a lawyer from the Westchester County Bar Association is certainly a credible source, right? And I fully expect these numbers to magically become irrefutable fact going forward, even if they are utter nonsense.
And the Enliven Project promotes a “truth-finding campaign.” Truth, truth, truth. Except that it’s not. Not even close. But who would be evil enough to take issue with a cause as dear to the hearts of so many as the elimination of rape? Or the elimination of animal abuse?
And this is how myths begin, and get repeated until eventually they become truth, even though it’s not.
Update: And the infographic is repeated at the Washington Post’s WonkBlog in a post by Dylan Matthews under the title, The saddest graph you’ll see today, who got it from Huffington Post‘s Laura Bassett and was subsequently picked up at Salon:
Update: Rape statistics are notoriously hard to collect,
and Amanda Marcotte has a compelling critique of the methods used here, which Enliven describes in more detail here. So while the phenomena described here are real (and Marcotte argues that, if anything, the chart exaggerates the number of false accusations), be aware that the exact numbers are subject to dispute.
According to her bio, “Amanda Marcotte is a journalist, opinion writer, and author of two books on progressive politics.” Apparently, statistics wasn’t one of her strengths. While she’s correct that false rape accusations are a subset of false rape allegations, that by no means translates into exagerating the numbers if the source numbers aren’t accurate in the first place. And this goes from wrong to wronger.
Update 2: Wally Olson at Overlawyered has more on the “wronger,” notably the Marcotte “correction” piece:
P.S. This supposedly corrective piece at Slate is if anything worse than the chart it purports to correct, straining to minimize false accusation as even rarer than portrayed. (It’s worth remembering that its author, Amanda Marcotte, has a bit of a history herself when it comes to credulity on this subject.) Bennett again provides a needed corrective: “Forensic DNA typing laboratories — as numerous commentators have noted — encounter rates of exclusion of suspected attackers in close to 25 percent of cases.”
Which just goes to show, the alternative to wronger can be even more wronger.