Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sorry - Wrong Numbers

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sorry - Wrong Numbers

Article excerpt

ONCE upon a time, the naive conviction prevailed that whatever appeared in print simply had to be true. No such innocence applies today, to judge from the public skepticism about journalism. But a new naivete now afflicts information-seekers. The number has replaced the word as sacred, and statistics - all statistics - are regarded as scientifically true until proven otherwise.

When they first appeared, no one questioned the figures claiming that reports of domestic violence increase an astonishing 40 percent on Super Bowl Sunday. So disturbing were the statistics that at the beginning of this year's game, NBC even ran a public-service announcement about the horrors of wife-beating.

But wait. The next day, embarrassed advocacy groups admitted that those numbers weren't accurate. Most shelters for battered women reported no unusual increase in domestic violence complaints during the game. No one could even say for sure where the inflated statistic had come from. Some advocates now worry that the incident will diminish the credibility of their cause - credibility they have spent years building.

Similarly misleading statistics distort the problem of child abuse. Thanks to mandatory reporting laws and heightened public awareness, reports of suspected child abuse reached 2.7 million in 1990 - a figure that gets quoted repeatedly as the definitive statistic on child abuse.

But wait again. The actual number of new, substantiated cases is only a fraction of that total. As Douglas Besharov, who was the first director of the US National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, explained in a talk prepared for the Rockford Institute, 60 or 65 percent of all reports are dismissed as "unfounded" after investigation. That leaves 35 or 40 percent of substantiated cases - about 1 million children.

But, added Mr. Besharov, who now teaches family law at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland, since each reported family has an average of 1.9 children, the actual number of substantiated cases is 525,000. And about 20 percent of those are repeat reports, which means the unduplicated number of new substantiated cases is about 420,000 per year. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.