When is Math Okay?

Is it alright for a person to pin statistics down and forcibly do math to distort them?

An image has been circulating which seems to say that men think Rape is A-OK. But, the numbers looked wrong to me. Very wrong. You can read a lot about the original imag, the study and the math that got the table in the image at Fear Us, which is not the same fearus.org in the image, but someone who bought the domain to discuss the image. The "friendly internet folklorist", over on Fear Us (no name seems to be revealed and I will respect the attempt anonymity) does such a good job of discussing the image in deatil, I will only discuss things from there in breif as relates to my original topic. It is a great read, and I do reccomend it.

I don't want to discuss rape as a social or moral issue here. That is not the focus of this. If you're looking to do that, try the #sjw tag on tumblr (may require a tumblr account to search tags, I don't own tumblr and it seems to change daily). Trust me, they love to talk about rape and why heterosexuality is the cancer that is killing the world.

I'm going to reproduce the table in HTML form so we can crunch the stats better.

When is Rape Okay?

During a poll of high school students, Jaqueline Goodchilds askes the following questions: "Is it all right is a male holds a female down and physically forces her to have sex if..."

Conditions Percentage of "Yes" responses
Males Females
He spent a lot of money on her? 39% 12%
He is so turned on he thinks he can't stop? 36% 21%
She has had sexual intercourse with other guys? 39% 18%
She is stoned or drunk? 39% 18%
She lets him touch her above the waist? 39% 28%
She is going to and then changes her mind? 54% 31%
She has led him on? 54% 26%
She gets him excited sexually? 51% 42%
They have dated for a long time 43% 32%

Now let's plot this data.

Looking at the plot it's easy to see one apparent problem... there's not much variation among the males. That shows, at the very least, the sample was not good. Not when there's much more variation among females. Something else seems wrong too, though. Although it's popular to split data by gender, it's curious that while some are very far the males are always more positive on the issue. Why would that be? Also, even consitering that the question does not use the word "rape", no reasonably intelegent person would answer "Yes I'm a rapist". It does not make sense.

The original image got it's data from another, based on a study on a five point scale. There is a table in a book contributed to by goodchilds which describes which percentage said it would not be acceptable to force sex on someone and it is based on a five point scale. So no only does the original study not mention rape, it is not a yes or no question! My assumption is that a five point scale may contain the following, where 1 is most acceptable and 5 is least acceptable.

  1. It is always acceptable to force sex under that curcumstance.
  2. It is probably acceptable to force sex under that curcumstance.
  3. It could be acceptable under that curcumstance, depending on other factors.
  4. It is probbaly not okay to force sex under that curcumstance.
  5. It is never okay to force sex under that curcumstance.

It's hard to imagine anyone picking number 1 "It is always acceptable to force sex under that curcumstance", but it's possible some pervert may pick 2. Number 3 is tricky, because it brings up the questions Has she been okay with having sex with you in the past?. It's easy to see someone picking that option-- has she consented under similar curcumstance before? Those are not really within the scope of this study at all. Let's say we had a table showing how many people felt it was not acceptable based on this five point study.

exactly such a table appears in Adolescents and their Perceptions of Sexual Interactions by goodchilds et al., published in Rape and Sexual Assualt II ed. Burgess (New York: Garladn Pub, 1988) on page 255. You can view it in this image here. Now what if someone took those who responded it was not okay to for sex, subtracted from 100 (because it is a percentage, and percentages are always out of 100) and assumed the rest of the people responded favorably. That's not right at all. In fact, the original chart shows those that responded unfavorably likely to prevent it appearing that a certian percentage of people were okay with rape.

So, a study had some numbers and someone did some math and then a textbook took some fuzzy math which distorted data and spread it around as truth. And now everyone is sharing the image on facebook talking about how awful it is that men want to rape women.

But wait! If they subtracted shouldn't the original table has the same problems? And the answer is no. The original table is based on a five point scale. I find it hard to believe that 54% of high school males feel it is OK to rape a female who has lead him on, but I can believe that only 46% would say "absoloutely no way!", I imagine a large group were pehaps in the 3's and 4's, but the table on reflects those who selected what (in my example) would be point 5.

Now what this says is that high school males feel that under some curcumstances soem physical force may be acceptable, which yes is certianly a concern. I do not feel this is reflective of adult males who have more experence with people and life. I would not take this to say that 50% of male high school students are rapists. Also remember that because the question was one-directional, male-on-female force for the female students the question meant something a little different. It meant "would you be okay being forced?" not "would you be okay forcing someone?". I imagine a study which did not assign genders would look more even, as no one likes to be physically forced into anything, particularly not highschool students.