Yesterday, like pretty much everyone else on the Internet, I read the ridiculous Washington Post column by W. Bradford Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson arguing that the way to end violence against women is for women to get married, got angry about it, wrote a piece attacking the piece’s arguments (such as they were), used the word “asspuddings” and said “fuck” a lot, then went home and ranted to the cat about the whole thing until she bit me as if to say, “Enough, for god’s sake.” And just like everyone else, I spent this morning reflecting somewhat more soberly on the whole sorry business and wondering: how in the world did this ever get published?
Other outlets have also amused themselves today picking over the manifold holes in the arguments that the column’s authors used to support their contention. Striking a blow for the possibility of data journalism not being entirely devoid of, y’know, journalism, FiveThirtyEight’s Mona Chalabi actually spoke to one Shannon Catalano, the author of one of the studies on which Wilcox and Wilson based their contentions. Catalano was, predictably enough, unamused with the way her data had been used: “The graph which they used from my report does show clear differences between intimate violence rates — but that is because it is only showing one variable; household composition. The story could change if we started to control for other factors.”
As they say in the classics: no shit, Sherlock. The thing is, this isn’t exactly complicated stuff — if someone like me, who last studied statistics in high school and never really liked it much then, can spot the problems with this article a couple of paragraphs in, then you have to ask: what in god’s name were the Washington Post thinking in deciding to publish this? Do they not have, y’know, editors? Did no one read this and say, “Hey, look, I dunno if these arguments make a whole lot of sense”? Did no one ask for more supporting evidence, or fact-check the sources, or generally just raise some sort of red flag?
There are some answers to be found in the Twitter feed of opinion page editor Adam Kushner, who after apologizing for the article’s spectacularly ill-judged headline and lede, said this:
This is a view you tend to see a lot these days, and it’s flat-out wrong. One of the greatest tricks the devil ever played on mankind was convincing us that “everyone is entitled to their opinion.” They’re not. Or, perhaps more accurately, not every opinion has equal validity. There are those opinions that are based on solid evidence and defensible premises, and then there are those that are based on large and structurally unstable piles of horseshit. They are two very different things. As I discussed yesterday, and as Catalano confirmed above, the W&W piece is very much one of the latter.
This reminds me of the arguments around climate change, where on one side you have scientists with libraries’ worth of evidence that the planet is heating up, and on the other you have a few plucky mega-rich demagogues with… well, no evidence at all, but hey, they have a couple of King James Bibles and large bank accounts and an unwavering sense of sociopathic self-interest that apparently outweighs any considerations about the future of our entire fucking species. The dictate of “impartiality,” which I also discussed yesterday, requires that each opinion be given equal weight. But this is nonsense. If you can’t justify your opinion beyond saying, well, this is just what I believe, then you deserve to be laughed out of the room.
Which brings us to the report’s authors, and specifically W. Bradford Wilcox, who according to the byline on the column is “a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, [and] directs the Home Economics Project at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies.” If you look at his Twitter bio, however, you’ll see he’s also the director of something called the National Marriage Project. Well, now. That might have been worth mentioning, huh?
After all, a bro whose day job appears to be running a think tank whose mission statement includes, inter alia, the goal of “bring[ing] marriage and family experts together to develop strategies for strengthening marriage” is perhaps not the best candidate to produce what purported to be a dispassionate, data-based analysis on how marriage affects the prevalence of violence against women and children. As it transpired, W&W’s contextless cherrypicking of stats to support their argument was so egregious that it didn’t take anyone long at all to wonder about the ideological motives behind their article. Still, a more cynical soul than me might suggest that this little factoid might rather have further colored readers’ opinion on the validity of the article, had it not mysteriously gone missing from the byline.
While basing arguments on idle speculation is apparently A-OK for one the nation’s leading newspapers, it’s not something we tend to do here at Flavorwire, so I’ll save you any further discussion of just why it might be that the Post feels the need to give airtime to clowns like these people and the Fox News bottom feeder who suggested earlier this week, apropos of the discussion of rape on college campuses, that “victimhood [has become] a coveted status that confers privileges.” Like the privilege of, y’know, being a rape victim.
But still, speculation aside, it’s fair to ask: Washington Post, what the hell? From Watergate to this? It’s embarrassing.