Scepticism? Really? A Case in Point.

I’ve been hemming and hawing over whether to post this in here or not for some time. Firstly because I’ve pretty much said my piece – and apparently pretty well – about Atheism+. I was going to let it go at that but then I had an ‘altercation’ on Twitter with an A+ supporter neck deep in feminist theory and saw an article in the New Statesman on A+ that said the following:

Less than a week old in its current form, Atheism+ is the brainchild of Jen McCreight, a Seattle-based biology postgrad and blogger at the secularist Freethought network. She has called for a “new wave” of atheism on that “cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime.” 

And well, reading that following the altercation stuck in my craw because from what I’ve seen thus far, it’s simply not true. Scepticism is not being applied to sacred cows or presumptions arrived at within the echo chamber of their existing movements.

Put on the spot to come up with an example I went to the 1/4 rape stat that gets bandied about. Rather than try and convince me – as one would hope a rational sceptic who has arrived at a decision would do – I was instead subjected to a barrage of insults, accusations of being delusional and of warping the stats.

My reasons for being sceptical of the 1/4 ‘statistic’ are expanded on below for sake of completeness, but aren’t really relevant. The point was that they were being completely non-sceptical of their own claims and abusive rather than trying to back it up or explain how those stats were arrived at.

Scepticism towards everything?

My arse.


Data Used
Female population of England and Wales: 27,503,500 – 2001 census data. [1]
Reported cases of Rape (British legal definition) British Crime Survey: Worst recorded year 2010/11 – 14,624 recorded incidents.[2]
UK female life expectancy (CIA World factbook): 82.25. [3]

Rounding down population to: 27,500,000 [4]
Rounding up rape incidents: to 15,000
Rounding up life expectancy: to 83

As a percentage of female population 15k rapes is a yearly incidence rate of 0.05454545454%. [5]

Rounding up yearly incidence rate to 0.06%
Multiply percentage by life expectancy: 4.98%. [6]
Round up to 5%.

To get to 1/6 two out of every three would need to be unreported.
To get to 1/5 three out of every four would need to be unreported.
To get to 1/4 four out of every five would need to be unreported.

This does not seem likely as efforts to destigmatise and otherwise make it safe to make a rape report have had no particular discernible effect on reports.

RAINN suggests that around 50% of rapes go unreported. That would take us to 10%, which is ghastly enough, but far from the 1/4 that is often bandie about. Despite giving the claim every extra opportunity it doesn’t seem to measure up.

The BCS self-reported section, which has the advantage of not having anything to hold people back from reporting, but the disadvantage of no hard data, reports an incidence of 0.4 for the year 2010/2011 between ages of 16 and 59 (43 year span). Even if you presume that and multiply it up (as above) that’s still ‘only’ 17.2%. That’s enough to meet the 1/6 but not the larger extents and is a probably a gross overestimate.

Rape is clearly a terrible crime and far too prevalent. 1% would be far too prelevent.
It is simply not necessary to mangle the stats to make it seem worse than it is and this may, in fact, be deleterious to the cause through the effect of making people suspicious.

Now, it’s possible that the US (origin of these claims) is much more rapey than the UK or has lower reporting rates, but it seems unlikely the difference would be that marked.

It’s not like I’m the only person to be sceptical.

[1] – UK population has been overestimated for some time but this appears to be about right for 2011/12
[2] – These are reported/recorded incidents. Female only. It does not take into account false accusations.
[3] – This is still going up. IIRC a recent BBC story said it was now 83.
[4] – This is the only case in which I have rounded down, rather than up. Everything else has been rounded to favour the high-incidence rate hypothesis.
[5] – Yearly incidence, not lifetime chance/number.
[6] – This isn’t realistic. Odds of being raped are not evenly spread throughout age. Again, it’s done to favour the high incidence hypothesis.


6 responses to “Scepticism? Really? A Case in Point.

  1. I’d not heard of Atheism+ so that is very interesting. It does seem the more atheist organisations organise themselves the more they start looking like religions…

    Be nice to live in a world where people picked a faith, were happy to talk about it, but didn’t feel they had to attack anyone else for a different faith. Hey ho.

  2. I will point you to an exhaustive government survey of rape and domestic violence in the U.S. released December 2011. I also included the URL to some of the links provided in the first article. While I haven’t reviewed the entirety of the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey results or methodology, I suspect that their results are indeed a far more accurate report than yours.

    • This report is even more out there with a 1/3 statistic and is not comparative since it conflates a whole bunch of things together.

      The actual statistics are beside the point though, they were included simply because someone would ask. It is – of course – possible that the US is a much more rapey society than the UK (on par with third world war zones) but that doesn’t seem that likely either.

  3. Could you be more specific about which whole bunch of things were conflated together? And what exactly is the argument of the 1/4 rape statistic that you are skeptical about?

    Because, arguably, how the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey arrived at their statistics is important. Those statistics were painstakingly calculated through 18,049 interviews with men and women. If the evidence vindicates a statistic that one in four experience sexual violence, there is reason to accept their claims.

    Secondly, this survey doesn’t just cover incidents of rape. There are many other acts of sexual violence, and the survey itself concerns:

    Sexual violence by any perpetrator, including information related to rape, being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences

    Stalking, including the use of newer technologies such as text messages, emails, monitoring devices (e.g., cameras and GPS, or global positioning system devices), by perpetrators known and unknown to the victim

    Physical violence by an intimate partner, psychological aggression by an intimate partner, including information on expressive forms of aggression and coercive control, and control of reproductive or sexual health by an intimate partner.

    According to this survey, 18.3% of women have been raped over the course of their lifetime. In total, 44.6% of women have been victims of a form of sexual violence.

    For some women and men, an act of sexual violence perpetrated against them is the most disturbing part of their life; to talk about it is to relive an extremely painful moment. And to debate about sexual violence can be emotionally devastating. This is a sensitive issue and not everyone can handle it rationally when their testimony is being criticized, even for legitimate reasons. Some of these people behaved in an irrational way. But we need to take into consideration that it’s hard to remain skeptical, detached, and vigilantly rational about sexual violence in a debate when you are the one who was personally effected.

    • Stalking? That’s not rape. There’s one example. The study seems to wrap a whole bunch of things together rather than singling out rape – as I did. In my calculations I gave massive benefit of the doubt.

      Again though, this is to miss the point. Merely being skeptical and questioning was enough not for any sort of explanation or discussion, but for abuse and shutting down.

      Sensitivity and emotional reactions is all the more reason to remain detached when examining these issues.

  4. Pingback: So Much Effin’ Trigger Warning « Atheonomy

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