Monday, July 06, 2009

Telegraph: wrong on rape

Because it has big pages and uses longish words and employs writers with robustly middle-class names, I tend to think of the Telegraph as a respectable newspaper.

This story from Ben Goldacre suggests I may be wrong:

There is nothing like science for giving that objective, white-coat flavoured legitimacy to your prejudices, so it must have been a great day for Telegraph readers when they came across the headline: "Women who dress provocatively more likely to be raped, claim scientists."
Ah, scientists. "Women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped, claim scientists at the University of Leicester." Well there you go.
Oddly, though, the title of the press release for the same research was: "Promiscuous men more likely to rape." …
I rang Sophia Shaw at the University of Leicester. …
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."

Since I started sniffing around, and since Shaw's complaint, the Telegraph has quietly changed the online copy of the article, although there has been no formal correction, and in any case, it remains inaccurate.


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