Sunday, May 17, 2009

Incredible feminist claim finally declared bogus

On Friday the Melbourne Herald Sun again repeated one of the most incredible claims ever made by feminists:

Kiri Bear, from the Domestic Violence Resource Centre, said ... "Violence against women is the leading contributor to the burden of disease for women aged 15 to 44"

I've pointed out before how untruthful this claim is. Now Tim Harford, who presents a statistics programme on BBC radio, has looked at the numbers and confirmed the obvious: that the feminist statistic is, in his words, bogus.

You can listen to Tim Harford discuss the issue here (More or Less, Friday, 15 May 2009). The segment runs for the first 10 minutes of the programme.

He begins by replaying a claimed statement of "fact" from a BBC news bulletin in March:

For women aged between 15 and 44 it [domestic violence] is the biggest cause of mortality.

Harford wonders why such an astonishing statistic wasn't first checked for accuracy by the news service. He then points out that the BBC isn't alone in accepting the claim. The Kent police and the Guardian newspaper have also reported domestic violence to be the leading cause of death for women up to the age of 44.

Some groups have made a similar but milder claim, namely that domestic violence is the leading cause not of mortality but morbidity (disease). The Home Office, a Home Affairs select committee, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Justice have all accepted the statistic as true.

Tim Harford then tells us (at 3:13 minutes into the show) that:

It's pretty common for a rogue statistic to spread and mutate like this, and the likely explanation is that people keep misquoting each other rather than going to a credible original source. That is what we did. We trawled through figures from the Office of National Statistics and it's clear that for England and Wales the 10 o'clock news statistic is, thankfully, false.

It turns out that cancer is the leading cause of death, by a long way, for women in the UK aged 15 to 44.

Harford then speaks with Dr Colin Mathers, a scientist responsible for statistics with the World Health Organisation, to find out about the global situation. He learns from Mathers that the leading cause of death globally for women aged 15 to 44 is HIV Aids, followed by tuberculosis and then suicide. Domestic violence does not make it into the top ten causes of death for women aged 15 to 44 globally.

Harford then asks Colin Mathers about morbidity. The leading problems for women around the world aged 15 to 44 in this area are depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The next part of the discussion (7:00) is revealing. In 2005 the Home Office included the statistic about domestic violence being the leading cause of morbidity for women in an official report titled "Domestic Violence: a National Review". Harford contacted the Home Office to ask where they got the statistic from:

They gave us a statement in which they [the Home Office] said the statistic was used for illustrative purposes.

For illustrative purposes! As I've warned previously, always be careful when dealing with feminist statistics. They are often there for advocacy rather than accuracy.

The Home Office did point to a 1993 World Bank report as a source of the statistic. But this research was about the effect of both domestic violence and rape, which combined were held to be the sixth most important factor in morbidity, not the first.

Harford points out that there have been "multiple bouts of statistical inflation" in the way that the World Bank figures have subsequently been reported: morbidity has been inflated to mortality; sixth place has been inflated to first place; a world figure has been used without adjustment for a Western country like the UK; and a combined figure for both rape and domestic violence has been applied, without adjustment, to domestic violence alone.

We next hear a conversation between Harford and Professor Sylvia Walby of Lancaster University. Professor Walby is an expert on domestic violence statistics. She admits that there is no reliable data to measure the extent of domestic violence, as it has not been (until very recently) included in official crime reports. Researchers have to rely on "quite limited information" contained in crime surveys. Professor Walby's estimate of the extent of domestic violence is that it affects 3.4% of women a year.

Finally, Tim Harford reveals that he was under pressure not to reveal the falseness of the feminist statistic:

Some of the people that we've talked to in the course of doing this piece have suggested that we shouldn't be questioning this rogue statistic even though it isn't true, we shouldn't be questioning it because domestic violence is such a serious problem.

In fact, there is good reason to question the statistic, apart from the fact that it isn't true. What kind of message does it send to young women when they are told that the greatest threat they face are their own "intimate partners"? Is this really going to foster the trust that is needed for young women to place themselves in a stable relationship with a man?

Why aren't women ever presented with a true statistic: that they are physically much safer when partnered than when single?

Men are not the greatest threat to women's health. It shows a remarkable disregard for men and for the truth to base domestic violence campaigns on such a claim. Tim Harford is to be congratulated for helping to set the record straight.


  1. The other thing that gets me about the "well, this is very important so don't question my statistics!" brigade is that, of course, we simply do not have enough assets to put towards absolutely every terrible thing that is happening around the world, and so we *really do* need to know exactly how damaging each bad thing is.

    If cancer is the top killer, then we should rather obviously be devoting a considerably greater proportion of our resources to fighting cancer rather than dealing with domestic abuse. I'm glad to say that we are, and in doing so, saving more lives than we otherwise would.

  2. Works cited 101. If a blogger claims something without a native source; so I can look at the same date they are concluding from, then I will take what they say as a grain of salt.

    Thank you for citing the original sources Mr. Richardson. That’s one of the reason I enjoy reading your stimulating posts.

  3. Domestic violence is a feminist shibboleth. They aren't about truth but power. Well done Harford (of the BBC of all places!) and well done Mark.

  4. It may have been declared bogus, but how much would you wager that this claim will be repeated on television or radio some time within the next month and treated as a fact?

    The presenters and commentators who make up the modern media will just carry on as if nothing happened.


  5. Mr. Richardson has done a great deal of work commenting on this topic. Perhaps there could be a list of OzConservative entries included here so that readers such as myself can have easy access to them all. I would appreciate such a list as I am currently doing some research in this area and find "following the leads" that sources such as OzConservative provide very valuable.

  6. Great entry Mark.

    The feminists over here are circulating the claim (among others) that 93% of women are raped by a man of their own race.

    Three guesses what they're trying to imply by that. Most women reading that, particularly on the college campuses where these claims are most often posted, are going to be white. Yet, the fact is, that a given black man is far, far more likely to commit rape than a given white man. What those white women will likely conclude from this stat, though, is that they are more likely to get raped by a white man. And that's false.

    It's not that the feminists are lying, exactly, it's that they're misleading. And that can be, in these cases, far more damaging.