Science vs. Not!Science

Ok, so, let’s get something straight.  Just because something involves numbers and percentages?  Doesn’t make it science.  Sometimes, it doesn’t even make it proper statistics.  Sometimes, it just makes it guesses with a veneer of respectability slapped over it.

Case in point, this article on some numbers about juvenile prostitution that are going around.  And by “going around” I mean being trumpeted by an anti-prostitution nonprofit group far and wide, to any media outlet that will listen.  The numbers in question suggest that juvenile prostitution is rising alarmingly.  How did these numbers come about?  Did they poll law enforcement agencies to ask about juvenile prostitution arrests?  Poll actual prostitutes?  No.  They, basically, guessed.  They looked at pictures of prostitution ads on the internet, counted the “young” looking girls, then multiplied that by a percentage of how many of those “young” looking girls would assumedly actually be underage.  How did they get that percentage?  They tested a “random sampling” of 100 peoples’ ability to distinguish whether someone was under 18 or not.

That’s it.  Yes, it’s that stupid.  Let’s put it this way:

 ”Consider this analogy: Imagine that 100 people were shown pictures of various automobiles and asked to identify the make, and that 38 percent of the time people misidentified Fords as Chevrolets. Using the Schapiro logic, this would mean that 38 percent of Fords on the street actually are Chevys.”

Why would people be trumpeting this “study” if it was so obviously flawed?  Money.

…having scientific-sounding numbers makes all the difference in the world.

In early 2007, McCullough approached the Georgia Legislature to ask for money for a regional assessment center to track juvenile prostitution.

“We had no research, no nothing. The legislators didn’t even know about it,” she recalls. “We got a little bit. We got about 20 percent of what we asked for.”

Later that year, the first Schapiro Group counts were made, and when McCullough returned to the Legislature the following session, she had the study’s statistics in hand.

“When we went to the Legislature with those counts, it gave us traction—night and day,” she says. “That year, we got all the rest of that money, plus we got a study commission.”

Underage prostitution is terrible.  But this is not science.  The idea that anyone might even think that it is science makes my blood boil on behalf of all the actual social scientists out there who do actual rigorous, substantiated, REAL data-gathering about this issue.

(cross-posted to Tumblr:  Science vs. Not!Science)

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