Alcohol and rape story was distorted
Ben Goldacre writes a regular column, Bad Science, which is often dedicated to debunking stupid newspaper stories based on distortions of statistics and science. Today, he went for a story in the Telegraph which reported that “scientists” had claimed that women who drink alcohol are more likely to get raped (also here). Goldacre got in touch with the woman who did the research, and discovered her to be a master’s student at the University of Leicester; this research was for her dissertation. Not only that; the findings were misrepresented in the Telegraph report:
Women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped? “This is completely inaccurate,” Shaw said. “We found no difference whatsoever. The alcohol thing is also completely wrong: if anything, we found that men reported they were willing to go further with women who are completely sober.”
And what about the Telegraph’s next claim, or rather, the paper’s reassuringly objective assertion, that it is scientists who claim that women who dress provocatively are more likely to be raped?
“We have found that people will go slightly further with women who are provocatively dressed, but this result is not statistically significant. Basically you can’t say that’s an effect, it could easily be the play of chance. I told the journalist it isn’t one of our main findings, you can’t say that. It’s not significant, which is why we’re not reporting it in our main analysis.”
The new paperback edition of Goldacre’s book, also called Bad Science, has been released recently, with a new chapter which couldn’t be published in the original because he was being sued by a German vitamin pill magnate who claimed that people in Africa were being “poisoned” by AZT and other anti-AIDS drugs (he has said similar things about anti-cancer treatments) and that multivitamins could cut the risk of developing AIDS by half. That chapter is now available in a PDF file.
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