Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hey, Even I Lied With Statistics (By Accident!)

Ignorance, Stupid Error, and Willful Intent:  Vision Forum is still guilty of objectifying women and children

Christians often quote the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the Church at Rome that "God works all things together for good."  Today, I hope that my own error can be used for good, illustrating that statistics can be tough.  Though I am mortified and have sweat through two changes of clothing since I figured out what I did, I think that it illustrates a fine point in the discussion of how we can easily get turned around with statistics.  I hope that it demonstrates that we always have the option to "eat crow," and Winston Churchill once said that it makes for a more than adequate diet.  Where sin (missing the mark) abounds, grace does much more abound.  I hope that this is one instance where God can show His strength through my weakness and show glory through my shame (Ps 4:2).  This verse was of great comfort to me today:
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
1 Corinthians 11:30-31

I expect that something similar to a portion of this post that now follows will appear on No Longer Quivering sometime in the near future, though I expand a bit more upon the subject here in my own corner of the internet.  If I had intended to be misleading from the start, I would have not included all of the numbers in the post where I first made the error!

. . . .

Vision Forum Ministries (the non-for-profit arm of Vision Forum) capitalizes upon connotation and summarizes their family and Pro-Life oriented Mission Statement by describing themselves as Christians who follow patriarchy as well as their created concept of “multigenerational faithfulness.”  Trusting people often fail to recognize the darker doctrines beneath the pleasant pictures connoted including "Protestant Exclusivism," their own version of Darwinian social engineering, and their view which defines daughters as a "dynamic means" for a man to "extend his influence into other covenantal family units."  The group's claims of an uncompromising Pro-Life status also beguile and mislead trusting followers while they concurrently recommend alternatives like stoning rebellious teens as well as the refusal of surgery for women carrying a life-threatening tubal pregnancy.

Properly attributing statistics and applying their meaning can be no easy matter, even if a person has been trained in their use.  Much to my own mortification, I realized today that I falsely reported the statistics related to a ten year estimated maternal death rate owing to ectopic pregnancy, misrepresenting it as an annual figure.

Based on the incidence of ectopic pregnancy maternal death which accounts for 6-9% of all maternal mortality, according to the Lancet's worldwide estimate for 2008, ectopic pregnancy would account for approximately ONLY 25,000 of those deaths.

Today, I "enjoy" the humble honor of catching my own demonstration of human error by reporting it myself.

But not so with some extremist groups.

When pointing out the unethical nature of the Vision Forum policy on ectopic pregnancy, Midwest Christian Outreach noted today that Vision Forum ignores errors, citing the example of their policy regarding the "unmitigated disaster" of woman's suffrage.  In response to pressure from critics, Vision Forum merely deleted and buried the documentation of their former position without any hint of redress.

I noted today that Vision Forum and Samaritan Ministries made another gross error in their reporting of live births resulting from ectopic pregnancy.  Both ministries published that 60-100 live births have resulted from these rare cases.  I found no such statement in the reference specifically footnoted in the original work (nor in the accompanying audio on the page), nor a statement of the necessary 50 year time frame for these births.  I suppose that this could be human error in the original work, but it does not account for failure to comprehend the meaning of the data in their other listed sources.  Could this presentation style used by Vision Forum's President, an Attorney, alter perceptions about ectopic pregnancy in the same manner that the psychology of numbers affects jurors in the courtroom?

Upon contacting organizations including several different Academies of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the National Right to Life organization, and data specialists within the CDC to verify the figure of 60-100 live births, none of these agencies had any knowledge of the existence of data supporting this suspicious claim.  Even with the willing cooperation of all of these professional groups, I have only been able to verify a rough dozen of successful, documented births to date.

. . . .

I plan to keep looking, seeking some services through the CDC for which I will have to pay a fee.  An arm of the CDC keeps data that does not necessarily make it into published statistics, but the process of obtaining this data is long and rigorous. So that information will not be forthcoming any time soon! (I chuckled when it was suggested to me that I focus on the 9% fatality rate for ectopic pregnancy from among all maternal death rates.)

I was greatly encouraged by the fact that everyone with whom I've discussed this matter at said agencies expressed great disdain that any Christian would recommend that women should refuse surgery for an ectopic pregnancy prior to tube rupture.  Professional people and Pro-Life people at these agencies expressed confusion and shock.

One physician noted to me on the phone that 95% of fallopian tubes do rupture in the case of tubal pregnancy, and I wondered if they were citing this study that I recalled when pouring over the data reported by the World Health Organization.  Samaritan Ministries published that the dangers of rupture are surprisingly moderate and occur in only 20% of cases, though more may rupture when seeking medical care, seeming to suggest that the morbidity experienced by women with tubal pregnancies is actually nosocomial or treatment-induced.  (In the post which will follow this one, I will talk about "cherry picked" data and seemingly innocent ways of presenting information.)

AND I spent some time on the phone with the National Right to Life organization today in my efforts to track down statistics on this matter.  I also expressed my concern that Dan Becker of Georgia Right to Life has been quoted in support of Doug Phillips' views and publicized as a speaker for Vision Forum's upcoming "Baby Conference,"giving the impression that Mr. Becker wholeheartedly supports the Vision Forum position and that National Right to Life does as well.    I was ASSURED informally and emphatically that National Right to Life In NO WAY supports the Vision Forum position on withholding treatment in the case of tubal pregnancy.
. . . . . 

Now we can get back to "How to Lie with Statistics" and why odds of 60 million to one as a statement of probability are likely too generous.

I am excited about the next few posts that I have planned.

I want to explain the difference between an average, a mode, and a mean, and how even simple statistics can be very misleading.  (And that's all without our plain old human errors like mine this week!)