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The Politics of Statistical Manipulation – Let’s Leave Spurious Logic to Our DetractorsBy: Q. Boyer (Courtesy of YNOT.com)
An article published by The Washington Post in June reported that the number of rapes per capita in the United States had declined precipitously – a drop of greater than 85-percent – between 1979 and 2004, according to “federal crime data.”
The federal crime data supporting that contention, according to the Post, was a “Justice Department estimate based on a wide-ranging public survey.” When conducted in 1979, a year in which the Post states reported rapes “peaked,” there were 2.8 rapes per 1,000 people responding to the survey. In 2004, the same DOJ survey showed 0.4 per thousand, according to the Post.
Some who read the Post article saw in it an opportunity to "turn the tables" on opponents of the pornography industry, the activists on either end of the political spectrum who endeavor to limit or even shut down the adult industry.
One observer, Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune, argued in his June 29 column that the data presented by the Post indicates “One theory about the causes of rape, however, has been thoroughly demolished.”
“Among religious conservatives and left-wing feminists, it’s an article of faith that pornography leads inexorably to sexual abuse of women and children,” Chapman continued. “But while hard-core raunch has proliferated, sexual assaults have not. Could it be that pornography prevents rape?”
To be fair to Chapman, I think his real point is that there is no connection between porn and rape and that to the extent the stats suggest anything, the stats suggest something other than what those on the political fringe would like the stats to indicate.
That said, some have seized on the statistics reported in the Post to argue that the answer to Chapman’s rhetorical question is a resounding “yes,” that the seemingly simultaneous increase in the availability and mainstream acceptance of pornography, paired with an apparent reduction in rape, is indicative that porn not only doesn’t cause rape, the increased acceptance and greater presence of porn actively deters rape.
For the same reasons that the “porn as cause” arguments fail, the “porn as cure” arguments fail, and in asserting the adult industry’s right to produce sexually explicit material, we should avoid this argument in support of that assertion.
In short, inexact methodology, flawed analysis and specious reasoning are no more likely to result in a sound argument for “Our Side” in this cultural debate than such approaches to for “Their Side,” regardless of how attractive the conclusion may sound as a rhetorical or public relations device.
The most reasonable conclusion to draw with regards to pornography and rape or other sex crimes is that, based on the data currently available, no meaningful or probative connection can be made between the two – period.
It is no more intellectually honest for proponents of porn and supporters of free speech to claim that inconclusive data supports the notion that “Porn is Good for You” than it is for opponents of adult entertainment to say the same data proves “Porn is Bad for You.”
As producers, promoters, and distributors of sexually explicit materials, it is incumbent upon us to defend our industry, our livelihood and our products, against those who would eliminate, or at least severely limit, our ability to ply our trade.
In structuring that intellectual and sociological defense of our industry, let Our Side stay above the kind of pseudo-scientific research and gross rhetorical excesses employed by the likes of Dr. Judith Reisman, the proponent of the absurd notion of “erototoxins” who recently asserted that Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy empire led the traffic in human persons from December 1953 to today.”
Our Side can make arguments, legitimate arguments, that repression of sexual images and sexual thoughts, and the perpetual foisting of scorn upon those who express such thoughts and create such images, is itself harmful and more detrimental to society than any Rob Zicari video.
Our Side can reason, and reason legitimately, that adults should be legally and morally culpable for their own actions and, as such, asserting that our products “cause” violent criminal acts is tantamount to providing an excuse to heinous criminals.
Our Side can assert, and assert legitimately, that adult businesses and businessmen have a right to be treated fairly under the law, and that American government at all levels is currently failing to extend us that fair treatment.
When it comes to making disingenuous arguments, relying on bad science, and accepting as a matter of faith any “fact” that seems to support our interests, though, let’s leave that rubbish to Their Side.