Tuesday, October 27, 2009

We are for Social Justice!

We cannot sanity check our figures!

Back in high school, the local advocacy club ran a poster campaign intending to draw attention to the problem of world hunger. Problem was, they couldn't agree on a number of people affected--I saw figures citing "deaths from hunger-related causes" ranging from 8 million, to 10 million, to 12 million, and one unfortunate soul made a poster consisting entirely of the line "30 million people a year die of hunger" repeated...when no less than thirty feet away was a poster citing a smaller figure.

Now in college, I run into another poster campaign, this time for rape and violence against women. I'm not in a position to check some of their figures (31% of women report being sexually assaulted by a significant other in their lifetimes--that's 46.5 million, but since it says "in their lifetimes" and doesn't give an explicit definition of sexual assault, I'll have to take it at its word). One poster, however, caught my eye. It said "One woman in the U.S. is raped every two minutes", and cited as its source the U.S. Department of Justice.

Quick multiplication tells us that 1 woman per minute = 30 an hour = 720 a day = 262800 a year. A quick Google search for the U.S. Dept. of Justice turns up a figure that conflates rape and sexual assault and gives a figure (trending down) of just over 200000 for 2008. Another search for the FBI places "forcible rape" for 2008 at just under 90000. Depending on how generous you are, the number given by the poster is either 20% off or 200% off, which doesn't speak well for the advocacy group.

Same place, different time--an advertising group claiming environmental holiness. Its claims: Americans waste 96 billion lbs. of food per year, and 25% can feed 4 million a day. Implications--each American wastes about 10/11ths lb. of food per day, and your average person eats 3 tons of food a day.

Does claiming you're working for a good cause free you of the burden of checking your numbers or something?

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