I can prove anything by statistics except the truth. - George Canning
Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination. - Vin Scully
In a very brief interaction with a CBC personality this morning, where he indicated that low turnout in a by-election in Newfoundland spoke poorly of the Government’s chances in the next general election, I suggested that it was impossible to infer a trend from a single data point / event.
After I said this, I thought back to my post yesterday, The Problem with the LGBTQ Agenda, and I gave some thought to the data being shared by pro-LGBTQ folks seeking to make legislative changes to protect against homophobic bullying.
Here is what I came up with:
- 3.5% of students self-identify as LGBTQ. (Source: Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services’ presentation to the Alberta School Boards Association Conference – November 22, 2011. Presenter: Dr. Kristopher Wells – University of Alberta)
- 1 in 5 of those same students report being harassed or assaulted (Source: Same as previous point)
- 64% of students in general report being bullied at school (Source: Stop a Bully campaign, citing a University of British Columbia survey)
- 47% of parents report having a child who is the victim of bullying (Source: Stats Canada)
- There are approximately 717,000 student-aged (high school or younger) children in Alberta (Source: Stats Canada)
Moving from there, we could roughly (unscientifically and without regard to localized variations) interpret that:
- Approximately 25,000 students in Alberta self identify as LGBTQ
- Approximately 692,000 students in Alberta do not self identify as LGBTQ
- Of the 25,000 students who self identify as LGBTQ, 1 in 5 report being harassed or assaulted – approximately 5,000 students
- Of the remaining students, reports on being harassed or assaulted range from approximately 325,000 to 422,000 cases (depending on statistics applied).
And with this information, pro-LGBTQ supporters in Alberta are suggesting that bullying is a phenomenon that is mostly targeted against them and therefore legislation must be drafted to prevent the phenomenon that is more unique to them than anyone. Meanwhile, the statistics suggest that the problem is far larger (statistically and literally) in the non-LGBTQ community.
Even Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman was swayed by a misunderstanding of statistics, making the hateful accusation in Question Period yesterday that for the Alberta Government to not pass pro-LGBTQ legislation was proof of the Government’s “homophobic legacy”.
Tough words … and unfair, unnecessary and misinformed.
The LGBTQ community are correct in their assertion that there is a crisis in Alberta (and I would posit, around the civilized world).
Here is where I see the crisis. For starters, either too many people:
- Do not know how to read statistical data and accidentally misinterpret it
- Intentionally misrepresent it for the sake of their own personal or professional agendas and actually bully people with it under the guise of ending bullying
- React to the statistics presented to them without bothering to verify the data, including legislators who should know better before passing legislation (it didn’t pass in this case) without understanding the downstream effects of it.
- Are not aware of how easily their emotions are evoked by inaccurate data (accidentally or wilfully).
And because we have a crisis in statistics gathering, interpretation, manipulation, presentation and understanding, the real crisis, bullying in general (which, by the way, extends well into our adult lives) is lost in an argument over who feels most affronted.
The truth is that bullying and intimidation are an insult to humanity and ways must be found to honor all people and not just specific groups.
Meanwhile, I have a new motion for the Alberta Legislature to contemplate, based on this information:
Statistics show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive. - George Bernard Shaw
Apparently, and I’ve just come to this shocking discovery, statistics also show that 100% of people who breathe will eventually die.
How can we have not seen the obvious crisis from these statistics? Until the Alberta Legislature addresses these more heinous, obvious issues in our society, I’m going on a hunger strike (while holding my breath).
I’m being silly for a reason. If I need to explain the reason, then we have another crisis developing that I won’t get into here.
In the meantime, in a quick survey conducted in the coffee shop I wrote this in, 100% of people questioned agreed with everything I said in this post.
It’s a statistic and so it must be right.
The Bottom Line
I think we need to honor the issues that affect all humans, recognizing all people as divine and deserving of every right, equally and without differentiation. The longer we wait to figure out who is the most affected in any given scenario, the longer everyone is affected – potentially to their detriment and to the detriment of society.
I also think that this blog post will anger some people who prefer emotion over data or who find some data to be inconvenient unless cherry picked to suit their needs. While data that is appropriately identified, selected and referenced rarely lies or misrepresents, the same cannot be assumed for those who would use this data.
What do you think?
In service and servanthood,
Those who lead, whether in business, politics or for causes in general, need to be careful how their intentions to reduce bullying are perceived. Oftentimes those who claim to be against bullying use bullying, demeaning words, taunting and other intimidation tactics themselves in order to manifest their own personal or professional intentions. Such could be said about the insults hurled at the Education Minister for not giving certain people what they demanded in regards to Motion 503 or for Liberal Leader Raj Sherman in labelling people who expressed a counter opinion to Motion 503 (which is permitted) as being automatically homophobic.
To those people, I ask:
- In such situations, do you believe that people will follow what you say (promoting anti-bullying) or emulate what you do (using bully tactics to achieve your objectives)?
- In such situations, do you believe your actions solve the problem or merely shift the problem somewhere else, especially when one rationalizes that such actions are “ok for a just cause”?
Are you sure?
How would others answer these questions on your behalf?
Addendum – When Data Becomes Inconvenient - April 10, 2014
The very people who were using stats yesterday to promote their intention and whose stats I cited in this post informed me today that the use of statistics is invalid when it comes to correcting social injustice.
It is curious that when the same data in a different context suddenly looks weak that people who previously cited the data rabidly suddenly insist that the same data is irrelevant.
Speaking of data, Greg Clark of the Alberta Party went as far as to suggest this:
Suggesting that defeating the motion could damage a province’s prosperity (without citing the evidence) is unsubstantiated fear mongering.
Data that is convenient as a hammer to drive one’s agenda can often become an inconvenient weapon to weaken one’s own case.
For this reason, data should always be chosen wisely.
- The Problem With the LGBTQ Agenda – April 9, 2014
- Bullies, Pink Shirts and Attaboys – March 16, 2013
- Lip Service–The Solution to Everything – November 19, 2012
- Mitt Romney, Bullies and Red Herrings – May 11, 2012