Methods Fraud - Right and Left

June 30, 2010

Two links:

1. Fox News used a really, really deceptive graph to make job loss data look even worse than it really is. Media Matters has the story.

2. Research 2000, a polling firm, may have been faking its data. Kos, who has been relying on their polls, has a long post detailing the tell-tale signs – things people would do if they were trying to make their polls appear to follow random sampling. (Makes me feel a bit more confident of my own criticism of a Research 2000 poll.)

UPDATE, July 1: I had thought that the Kos/Research 2000 story was just for those interested in technical matters (sampling, data distributions) and maybe political blogs. But the both the Times and WaPo and perhaps other newspapers have stories about it today.

Rich and Richer, Dumb and Dumber

June 28, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ran the CBO data on income and published a report showing the huge increase in inequality since 1979, especially in recent years (the data go up to 2007 – full report here). It’s the people at the top – the default swappers and hedge funders – who’ve been making out like bandits, while the rest of us limped slowly along.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

The graph shows percent changes. How much is that in American money?

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

We all knew this. But I’m still surprised that supposedly intelligent people can still attribute it all to individual factors. Yes, individual differences in ability account for individual differences. But they don’t make for huge changes in the overall distribution
.
But here we have Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit, one of the most widely read bloggers in the known universe (especially the conservative universe), reprinting the comment of a reader at a tax blog that posted the data.
A reason for the “wealth or income gap”: Smart people keep on doing things that are smart and make them money while stupid people keep on doing things that are stupid and keep them from achieving.

People who get an education, stay off of drugs, apply themselves, and save and wisely invest their earnings do a lot better than people who drop out of school, become substance abusers, and buy fancy cars and houses that they can’t afford, only to lose them.

We don’t have an income gap. We have a stupid gap.
Glenn calls it “the comment of the day.”

In 1993, the average household in the top 1% was making 36 times the income of a household in the lowest fifth. In the next 14 years, those top guys worked really hard while the poor apparently sold their diplomas to buy crack and Escalades, so by 2007 the gap had doubled. The richest now made 72 times the income of the poor.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

The funny thing is that for a few years (1984- 1983 1993) the rich-poor gap was decreasing. It must have been all the cocaine those bond traders were doing.

The commenter is right – there may be a stupid gap. But it’s the gap that Durkheim suggested long ago. Some people look at “social facts” – large differences between one time or place and another – and try to explain them in terms of individual facts. Other people seek an explanation in social facts – facts about the society, facts which individuals have little power to change.

(HT: Mark Kleiman)

American Exceptionalism

June 27, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston


(Click on the image for a larger view.)

Dutch Treatment

June 26, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

My doctor poked and prodded, told me there was probably nothing to worry about but wrote prescriptions for couple of additional tests. The whole thing took a good 15 minutes.

At the checkout counter, they told me that I owed $425. I don’t know how much of that I’ll get back from the insurance company.

That same day, the Commonwealth Fund posted an update of its comparisons of healthcare quality and costs in seven countries. As in previous years, the US finished last on the overall rankings and in several of the subcategories. As for cost, literally the bottom line, we’re Number One.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

The Netherlands won this healthcare world cup. And as Erik Voeten at The Monkey Cage writes, it’s not just about insurance. He was in the Netherlands, where, as a visitor, he had no insurance.
Last summer, I had to bring my daughter to a Dutch doctor. Not only did I succeed in seeing someone that same morning but the cost [was] less than my regular co-payment in the USA, even though I have no insurance in the Netherlands and had never seen that doctor before.

The key is that the Dutch have an extensive system of family doctors, who generally operate a practice from their homes with minimal administrative assistance. These family doctors provide basic health care, do house visits, and are the gatekeepers for (more expensive) specialized care.
House calls. Does anyone out there in the US remember house calls?

Stuff and Nonsense

June 22, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Divorce among the wealthy can provide us with a tray of financial delicacies that usually aren’t passed around. In today’s Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin gives us a taste of the goodies coming out of the divorce of Elon Musk, a co-founder of PayPal who says he is now broke. Well, rich-people’s broke he’s out of cash.
He subsists, according to court filings, on $200,000 a month and still flies his private jet.
But with rich people, it’s not about the money. I know that because I heard Maria Bartiromo a few weeks ago on NPR promoting “her”* book, The 10 Laws of Enduring Success.
Success is a feeling that we get to when we feel content. So I spoke with people like Jack Welch . . . and I asked them all about this so-called stuff in their lives and then I asked them, is that what success is? And so many people told me that purpose, knowing what matters, is so important, because it puts things into perspective for you.
In Jack Welch’s 2002 divorce trial, we learned about the “so-called stuff” – the things that purpose put into perspective for the GE CEO. (Source here.)
In the affidavit, Jane Welch claimed that her husband’s retirement package allowed him unfettered use of corporate jets (a perk valued by an expert as being worth $291,677 a month). He also had a company-owned apartment overlooking Central Park, a limousine, a cook, free flowers, country-club memberships and a charge account at Jean Georges restaurant. He was also entitled to top tickets at the Metropolitan Opera, tennis tournaments such as Wimbledon, and for games played by the Knicks, Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The affidavit revealed that he didn’t even pay for his laundry.

And that’s the retirement package – what he gets after he stops working for GE.

* Written “with” Catherine Whitney. Ms. Whitney’s name is right there on the cover, though in much a smaller font than Bartiromo. Many with-ers wind up on an inside page among the acknowledgments – in the withness protection program.

Distinction on the Velvet Rope

June 21, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

What do you do if you got an undergraduate degree from Yale, and your sociology PhD. from Harvard, and you’re on the faculty at the Kellog School of Management at Northwestern? You get a job as a cigarette girl and coat-check girl, of course. At least, that’s what you do if you’re Lauren Rivera and you want to do research about how people read the signs of status. And to do that, you have to gain the confidence of the guys on the velvet rope.

Bourdieu did surveys to see which tastes carried greater capital. Lauren Rivera watched distinction in action. She looked at who did, and who didn’t, get in the door at an “exclusive Manhattan nightclub” (Bungalow 8? Marquee? The Box? C’mon Lauren, you can tell us.)


It isn’t just about how much money you have. It’s about who you are, though obviously the gatekeepers don’t want to admit someone can’t pop the $600 for a bottle of Cristal. They assess identity by the company you keep and what you’ve spent that money on.

Social network mattered most, gender followed. For example, a young woman in jeans stood a higher chance of entrance than a well-dressed man. And an elegantly dressed black man stood little chance of getting in unless he knew someone special.

Know someone. Or know someone who knows someone. If you’re a guy, bring attractive women—ideally younger women in designer clothes. Don’t go with other dudes. And doormen are well versed in trendiness, so wear Coach, Prada, Gucci—but don’t show up in a nice suit with DSW shoes.

(Full disclosure: 1. I had to look up “DSW shoes.” I thought they were something like NSFW shoes. 2. I admire sociologists who do research on nightlife (David Grazian is another). I just wonder what they do about that 8:30 class the next morning.)

The Kellog Schoo’ls story about this research is here.

HT: Robin Hanson

The Market for Corporate-Bashing

June 19, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Why is Hollywood so anti-capitalist?

Marginal Revolution’s Alex Tabarrok was fretting about that question in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. Alex loves capitalism (“the most humane and productive economic system the world has ever known”), so he’s miffed that American movies frequently make capitalists the heavies. Why does Hollywood refuse to show capitalism in its true, wonderful glory?

His explanation begins with a psychological analysis of the people who make the movies – writers and directors. They have, he says, a deep personal resentment of capitalists. They see capitalists as forcing them to sacrifice their art on the altar of commerce.
Capitalists work hard to produce what consumers want. . . . . filmmakers need capitalists for financial support, and so their resentment toward capitalists is especially strong.
Capitalists are nice, hard-working folks. Filmmakers are spiteful ingrates.

Ben Stein, too, thirty years ago, was struck by the anti-business leanings of writers that the media business was lavishly rewarding. Stein put it somewhat differently.
The Hollywood TV writer . . . is actually in a business, selling his labor to brutally callous businessmen. One actually has to go through that experience of writing for money in Hollywood or anywhere else to realize just how unpleasant it is. Most of the pain comes from dealings with business people, such as agents or business affairs officers of production companies and networks.
Hard-working writers, nasty capitalists.

I don’t know whose version is closer to the truth, Stein’s or Tabarrok’s. Both are economists,* both vigorously pro-capitalist. The difference is that Stein has actually worked as a writer in Hollywood.

As his quintessential anti-capitalist, Tabarrok singles out James Cameron, director of the two highest grossing films ever, “Titanic” and “Avatar.”
Despite his commercial success, Mr. Cameron is a notorious corporate basher.
That sentence makes sense only if you assume that success is antithetical to corporate bashing. Tabarrok is an economist, I’m not. My knowledge of the field barely extends past what you get at Father Guido Sarducci’s “five minute university” – “supply ana demand.” But I would think that the success of “Avatar,” “Titanic,” and the rest tell us that Cameron is supplying what consumers are demanding, and apparently, that’s corporate-bashing.

* Some people have questioned Stein’s economics perspicacity, especially after his August 2007 New York Times column in which he dismissed concerns about the subprime collapse: “these subprime losses are wildly out of all proportion to the likely damage to the economy from the subprime problems.”

Economists With Trembling Hands

June 18, 2010.
Posted by Jay Livingston

Economist Bryan Caplan blogs today about “trembling hand perfect equilibrium,” a concept he learned as an economics grad student and which he now finds “genuinely enlightening.”
It explains, for example, why imposing harsh punishments for small infractions isn't nearly as smart as it seems . . . The trembling hands concept also explains the value of trying to exceed others’ expectations. In the real world, it’s not smart to apply the minimum acceptable level of effort, or pay others the smallest amount you can get away with.
Doing your best work, paying people decently, and imposing rational penalties for infractions – all possible only if you understand “trembling hand perfect equilibrium,” at least if you’re an economist.

And they say that sociology is the discipline that takes common sense and packages it in fancy, abstruse language.

No Sex Please, We're Committed

June 17, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston
(Note, July 2011. I have substantially rewritten this.)

Why do conservatives object to sex? Not all sex, of course. Sex in marriage is O.K., especially if it’s for purposes of procreation. But any other sex, no good.

If you asked conservatives why they favored abstinence and hated promiscuity, they would probably say that it makes for a better, more civil society. They might also say that limiting male sexual impulses is better for women too. Some of the would toss in something about God and the Bible, so some people would explain the position on abstinence as part of a general political/religious conservatism. 

The evolutionary psychologists have a different answer: conservative views on sex are a “reproductive strategy.” In the battle for passing along the most genes, conservatives have adopted a “committed strategy” (abstinence, then monogamy). But that strategy is threatened by the “promiscuous strategy.” No wonder conservatives want others to be abstinent.

I was reminded of this abstinence issue when I followed a Robin Hanson link to this article about attitudes towards drugs and sex. The researchers, Kurzban, Dukes, and Weeden, start from a finding about attitudes towards drugs. If you want to guess someone's position on drugs, don’t ask whether they are Republican or Democrat.  Ask what they think about non-marital sex.   As a predictor, sex ideology (Sociosexual Orientation Index) overwhelms political ideology. But why? Why should sexual attitudes be so important? More to the point, why should sexually conservative people care what others do sexually or pharmacologically? Here’s the evol-psych answer:

Efforts to limit recreational drug usage flow in large part from attempts by committed reproductive strategists to reduce levels of sexual promiscuity because promiscuity interferes with committed strategies.
It seems like a silly interpretation to me. But, like Freudian interpretations that similarly attribute motives that the people involved would deny: it’s hard to refute. What kinds of evidence might the evolutionists accept as disconfirming it?

Also, there are elements of sexual conservatism that seem not to fit with the evol-pscyh model. Sexual conservatives oppose gay marriage. But if these “committed strategists” wanted to get an edge, they would support gay marriage.  They would want their promiscuous gay rivals to get married and live in non-gene-transmitting gay marriages. Conservatives also oppose abortion. But if their heterosexual rivals got pregnant, shouldn’t conservatives want them to abort the fetuses rather than passing along those non-conservative genes?

It seems more plausible that what’s at stake is not the transmitting of conservative genes to the future; it’s political dominance in the present. Having your sexual morality, and not the other guy’s, enshrined in law is like having your flag flying on the state capitol, or having your language designated the official state language, or having a law “defending” your kind of marriage, or having your religious symbol used as a generic grave marker. It signifies that this land is your land, it’s not the other guy’s land.

Everything Old Is New Again

June 14, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Remember this?



Don't laugh. This is for real.



Note that it comes complete with manual carriage return. It’s available here – buy it, get a DIY kit, or send in your favorite typrewriter, and they’ll customize it.

(HT: J. R. Lennon at Ward Six.)

The Playing Fields of Landon

June 13, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston
“LANDON SCHOOL expects its students to become young men of character and integrity – men who behave honorably in all of their actions and relationships with others.”
Landon is the fancy private school for boys where some “rising freshmen” – boys of fourteen or fifteen – created a sports fantasy league, complete with a website where they posted information on candidates they could draft. The trouble was that the sport was sex, the candidates were girls, and the object of the game was to score points – the boys planned to throw parties, invite the girls, and rack up points for each type of sexual contact. (WaPo story here.)

The school undoubtedly sees the boys as betraying its ideals – all that stuff on its Website about character, honor, respect, true brotherhood, and the rest. The boys’ fantasy sex league was the antithesis of these virtues.

Or was it? Maybe it was just a variant form of them.

If the continuum is from honorable to dishonorable, from respectful to disrespectful, or from good character to bad character, then yes, what the boys did was the opposite of the school’s principles.

But what if you think about it as two different ways of relating to other people? In World One, your relations with people are governed by Important Principles. The object of any interaction is to measure up, to score points for yourself and your team by behaving on the basis of those principles. Other people are more like objects in this game, objects towards which you behave honorably or respectfully or sexually, depending on the principles set forth by your team (or school or society). The important thing is to be true to your code or your school.

In World Two, you relate to other people as people. Interactions are guided by a kind of mutuality, by what makes you and the other people involved feel good or bad. You try to understand others, to know a lot about them and their reactions, and you act on the basis of this empathic knowledge. In this world, good character and honor are much less relevant concepts.

The first world works well in large organizations where most people are more or less strangers to one another. The second may be more appropriate to relationships among people who are closely and personally connected. Personalized relationships in business and government bring corruption and unfairness. But you can get just as awkward a misalignment when you force universalistic principles, even noble ones, on personal relationships. Even if, like the Beach Boys, you are being true to your girl just like you’re true to your school, you are relating not to her but to an abstract ideal – trueness. Worse, abstract principles, whether honor or virginity pledges, may prove to be brittle when they come up against sexual urges or other powerful human feelings.

In earlier comments ( here and here), I let slip my doubts about justice. Now, I’m questioning honor and character. There must be something wrong with me, but here’s what I mean. The trouble with these virtues is that they allow men (these are typically masculine virtues) to treat other people in the most inhumane ways. Take honor, for example. In a decent society, the phrase “honor killing” would be incomprehensible. But when we hear it, we understand immediately what it means. We may not always approve of the specifics – a man killing his sister because she was raped. But we get the idea, probably because we’re familiar with other defenses of honor that we do deem legitimate even though we realize that people may well wind up being killed. Death – either yours or the other guy’s – before dishonor.

If I wanted to arrange social life so that boys would exploit girls as sexual objects, how would I go about it? First, I would segregate boys from girls for most of the important parts of daily life lest the boys get to know the girls as people. Second, I would have the boys focus on abstract principles, and I would emphasize that these principles are more valuable and worthwhile than are fallible, frustrating human relationships. My Website would have statements much like the one at the top of this post.

On the other hand, if I wanted to avert that exploitative mentality, I might do everything possible to get boys and girls together in very ordinary circumstances. My Website might say something like:
The Livingston School expects boys and girls to hang out together a lot and learn to enjoy one another’s company. Character, schmaracter.

Creative Destruction and Schools

June 11, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Charter schools seem to be all the rage. Even the Obama administration likes them. Now New York state is more than doubling their numbers.

Charter schools are a pet project of conservatives, who see them as a way to weaken teachers unions. Mayors, maybe even in liberal places like New York City, may feel the same way. Conservatives also like charters because these schools are, at least in principle, based on competition. Charters are run by private entrepreneurs, not public monopolies. Schools are competing, since they have to compete to attract students. Within a school, the principal can reward good teachers and fire bad ones, so teachers are forced to compete.

In the classic Adam Smith model, when suppliers compete and consumers can choose, products get better and prices come down. As more suppliers enter the marketplace to compete, the strong survive, the weak become the debris of “creative destruction.” But the consumers are better off. That’s certainly true for many products – like the computer that you are reading this on (probably not a Kaypro). But with charter schools, the effect may be reversed. The first ones may be the best. Then, as states make it easier for more educational entrepreneurs to get into the game, schools of lesser quality may come on line.

The overall evidence on charter schools is hardly cause for conservative rejoicing. The well-done studies find that most of them do about as well (or as badly) as public schools at improving kids’ test scores. A few do better; a larger number do worse. More to the point, the charters that do outperform publics are those in states and cities where they face strong resistance (mostly from unions). In places where charters have had an easier time, they tend to do worse than publics. And where there’s money to be made by entrepreneurs, there’s also the risk of outright fraud.

Poor -- Better Off Here Than in Scandinavia?

June 10, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Like many liberals, I had always thought that the poor in the US, those at the bottom of the income ladder, were worse off than their counterparts in Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries.

Wrong, says economist Price Fishback in a guest post a couple of weeks ago at Freakonomics. He argues that the standard measures of social spending are inadequate, and that if you do the math his way, the US, Denmark, and Sweden are very similar.
Is the U.S. safety net a better system than the universal Nordic programs? Many Nordic people seem to prefer theirs, and many Americans seem to prefer ours. Despite the difference in approaches, the striking feature here is that the amounts spent per person in the population are not that different.
OK, forget the fatuous comment about what people prefer. People don’t know enough about foreign systems for these preferences to mean much. And even if the amounts spent are similar, the important question is who gets what? Are we liberals totally wrong about how these countries treat the poor?

No. Lane Kenworthy has an excellent analysis too long to summarize here. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, take a look at both articles. (Kenworthy has links to more formal versions of Fishback’s work). The short answer is that in the US, a much smaller net portion of social spending actually benefits the poor. Also, a standard measure of deprivation finds 13% of people in the US reporting deprivation, more than twice the percentage in Sweden and Denmark.

Class Distinction on Paper

June 9, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Lisa at Sociological Images has a wonderful post about “post-World-War-I men’s magazine covers.” She compares them to today’s men’s magazines and finds that both “emphasize control over oneself and the conquest of women.”

The goals are similar but the lad mags of today choose different means to move toward those goals. The old vintage mags get there via “tests of strength, cunning, and fighting ability.” The Maxims do it via consumption: “the right exercise, the right products (usually hygiene or tech-related), the right advice on picking up women and, well, the right women.”

Lisa’s comment is typically perceptive. But she skips over a class dimension, one that would have been clear to readers back then but which is now more attenuated, a distinction based on education, occupation, and the quality of the paper.

(Click on the image for a slightly larger view.)

Neither Lisa nor her source specify the years for these covers, but my guess, based on the cover price (25-35¢), is that they are from the early fifties. That was also the time when a young Frank Zappa might have been furtively reading them and seeing teaser titles like “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.” (The yellow circle around the title is my own addition. Older Zappa fans might not otherwise notice it. If you missed the reference, click on the Zappa link.)

The large class distinction 55-60 years ago was still the classic split between blue collar and white collar, working class and middle class, pulps and slicks. Man’s Life and the other men’s magazines were all pulps. Their intended audience – the blue-collar, working class man – could choose from among several of these (see Lisa’s post for covers of Male, Real, Men’s Conquest, and the rest). Women too had a variety of pulps – magazines devoted to romance, “true stories” of celebrities, or confession.

(Click on the image for a slightly larger view.)

But slick-paper magazines for women (the middle-class and the aspiring) also abounded. They covered topics like fashion, homemaking, and beauty. Several of them are still around today (Vogue, Woman’s Day, Glamour, etc.)

But for the educated, middle-class man – the guys on Mad Men circa 1960 – there were almost no magazines. Esquire, and that was about it. Other than that, they could read the news magazines like Time or general interest slicks (Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post).

Then came Playboy. It was Hefner’s genius (or luck) to create a magazine for this untapped market. The Playboy message back then was much the same as the one Lisa identifies in today’s lad mags – having the right products, ideas, and tastes. (Hefner and Bourdieu are singing the same song, just to a different chart. And it should be noted that Hef’s right-hand man was a sociologist, A.C. Spectorsky.)

Playboy hit the newsstands in 1953. The next year brought men that other staple of the slicks – Sports Illustrated. Sports magazines had been around, but they were all on pulp paper.  Sports Illustrated was to Sport what Playboy was to Man’s Life. And both slicks were incredibly successful.

News Flash - Sociological Prose

June 8, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Some jokes never get old, at least not at True/Slant, where Conor Friedersdorf has a pretty good parody, “What if sociologists wrote the news?”

    Untangling Race & Gender from Catastrophic Incidences of Corporate Exploitation In Semi-Natural Ecosystems: A Case Study
    . . . . attention is largely focused on efforts to plug the oil well undertaken by British Petroleum, a corporation founded in imperial Britain to exploit the oil resources of people of color.
    It is not insignificant to cleanup efforts, however, that even today BP’s leadership lacks adequate gender diversity, its board of directors being made up of fourteen persons, only one of them who self-identifies as a female, and all of whom earn significantly more than the median income in Louisiana, Alabama, and even the relatively privileged residents of coastal Florida.

And so on. It’s nothing new, but even an old joke is funny if you’ve never heard it (or written it) before.* And from Friedersdorf’s photo, I’d guess it was only a few years ago that he was taking Soc. 101.

Also, it’s good to be reminded of the excesses and shortcomings of our prose and our ideas. Of necessity, some professional writing is going to be arcane – a convenient shorthand for insiders but opaque to those unfamiliar with the concepts and arguments. Still, when you read over something you’re about to put out there for students, the public, or even other sociologists, it’s useful to ask, “Does this sound like a parody?”

-----------------------------
*Speaking of old gags that are funny to the young, True/Slant also has a story from failblog about the U of Utah student newspaper’s year-end prank – farewell editorial columns set so the layout spells naughty words.

This Is Not About Sex

June 4, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Today’s Washington Post has a nice article about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It’s by Peter Moskos, who ought to know. His father, Charles Moskos, was a military sociologist – the man who coined the phrase. The point of Peter’s article is that for his father, DADT wasn’t just some abstract rule or impersonal policy recommendation; it reflected his own feelings about sexuality.
My father believed in something that seems quaintly old-fashioned today: sexual modesty. He didn’t like being confronted with anybody’s sexuality, gay or straight.
He wasn’t going to ask, and he didn’t want to be around if somebody told.

I get the impression that a similar squeamishness is what underlies the current opposition to proposals to scrap DADT and allow gays to serve openly. The difference is that Charles Moskos was willing to admit it. The opposition today usually talks not about sex but about “good order and discipline” or “readiness.”

I remember Dale Bumpers’ speech defending Bill Clinton against impeachment. The impeachment came in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but what Clinton was charged with was lying under oath. The charge was perjury and obstruction of justice, but as Bumpers told the Senate,
H. L. Mencken said one time, “When you hear somebody say, ‘This is not about money’– it’s about money.” And when you hear somebody say, “This is not about sex” – it's about sex.
I can’t help thinking that behind all the arguments about “unit effectiveness” and the like, what motivates these opponents is a kind of prudishness, a feeling of uneasiness about sexuality– maybe their own but certainly that of others, especially if those others are homosexual.

Counting the Un-askable and Un-tellable

June 3, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Like Paul Revere warning that the British were coming, the Family Research Council has mounted up and is spreading the alarm about gays in the military. The Council is especially worried about “sexual assault.” Their report, written by Peter Sprigg, looked at all 1643 cases in the Pentagon’s 2009 annual report on sexual assault.
Our startling finding was that over eight percent (8.2%) of all military sexual assault cases were homosexual in nature. This suggests that homosexuals in the military are about three times more likely to commit sexual assaults than heterosexuals are, relative to their numbers. [emphasis in original]
And that’s under the repressive Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell rules. If gays are allowed to serve openly, warns the FRC, it’s Matey, bar the door. (For more on their predictions, see my previous post.)

Counting sexual acts is tricky at best. When the sexual behavior you’re trying to measure can ruin a career, and when it’s something about which people are not permitted to ask or tell, and when you are counting only the officially reported cases, which is what the FRC did, you’re going to run into some big methodogical problems.

● Underreporting. The military population numbers nearly 1.5 million, yet there were only 1643 cases in the report. Underreporting wouldn’t matter if victims of heterosexual assault and homosexual assault were equally unlikely to report the offense. But women may also feel more vulnerable to social and perhaps semi-official sanctions for filing a report against a heterosexual male. Women may define an aggressive pass not as sexual assault but as just “what some guys do.” The one reference on this I came across found similar rates of non-reporting for both men and women – nearly 80%.*

● Seriousness. The military definition of sexual assault includes everything from forcible rape to “unwanted fondling.” Even if Sprigg’s numbers are accurate, heteros may commit a higher proportion of serious assaults. In the non-reporting study, the most frequent reason given by male victims was that the offense “wasn’t important enough.” Among women victims, the most frequent reason for not reporting was “Felt uncomfortable making a report.” These data strongly suggest that the unreported heterosexual attacks were, on average, more serious.

For example, in his section on “Risk of homosexual assault in sleeping quarters,” Sprigg excerpts a dozen cases, presumably the juiciest ones he could find. These turn out to be mostly unwanted gropings.
“Subject groped Victim’s crotch several times when helping Victim, who was intoxicated, into his bunk.”
“Victim awoke in his rack to a hand moving up and down his leg and touching his groin area.”.
The “sodomy” cases are typically a sleeping or passed out sailor awakening to find another man giving him an unsolicited blowjob.

● False reporting. Remember, gay sex can get you booted out of the military. But victims don’t get kicked out of the military; homosexuals do. So when an instance comes to light, a more or less consenting partner might claim that he was victimized by the other guy. We don’t know how many such cases there are.

● Unknown base rates. Sprigg assumes that the proportion of gays in the military is no greater than in the civilian population. I agree, but since we can’t ask, and since the people in uniform can’t tell, there’s no way to be sure. If for some reason, gays are overrepresented in the military, then we’d have to pare down the estimate that they are three times as sexually assaultive as straights.

● Sex or power. The most serious male-on-male sexual assaults may be committed by men who identify themselves as heterosexual but who are using sex as a means of humiliation. Prison rape is probably the best-known non-military example; some fraternity hazing also plays on this theme. The same may be true of some of the incidents in the military, especially those involving multiple offenders.

For all these problems, it would be very useful to have other sources of data. The Pentagon reports may be the most comprehensive account of sexual assault in the military – this is not my area, and I’m not familiar with the literature – but before I conclude that gay soldiers are three times more sexually assaultive than straights, I’d like to see more evidence.

* I am using the assumption that most of the female victims were victims of heterosexual assault and that most of the male victims were victims of homosexual assault. It is merely an assumption, and there’s good reason to believe that many of the males were victims of heterosexual offenses. Also, Sprigg and the FRC think that underreporting is greater for male victims, not females. But nobody really knows. I wish I knew of some relevant data.

The Family Prediction Council

June 2, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Family Research Council came out last week with a report warning us about the dangers of allowing gays to serve openly in the military. The author, Peter Sprigg makes two predictions:
1. Welcoming open homosexuality in the military would clearly damage the readiness and effectiveness of the force—in part because it would increase the already serious problem of homosexual assault in the military. [emphasis in original]

“Clearly damage?” It remains to be seen what the damage, if any, would be. Allowing homosexuals in the military doesn’t seem to have damaged the readiness and effectiveness of the Israeli army. As for an “already serious problem,” it consists of about 150 homosexual assault incidents reported last year in a military population of 1,450,000.

2. If the current law against homosexuality in the military is overturned, the problem of same-sex sexual assault in the military is sure to increase. [emphasis in original]
Sure to increase? Most of these assaults are unwanted gropings. Maybe if homosexual men and women were allowed to use their words, a privilege now afforded only to straight soldiers, the number of these sexual assaults might decrease.

Suppose that heterosexual men were prohibited from asking a woman if she might be interested in a romantic encounter. How might they find out? They can’t ask, and she can’t tell. What’s left? Fondle, caress, grope, perhaps, and see how she responds.


But the organization is not the Family Prediction Council, and Sprigg has in fact looked at some evidence. More on that tomorrow.