Woozle Hunter: Lies, damned lies and DV

Woozles are wily critters. They exist somewhere in the pages of academic journals, leaving a trail of references to references. When the intrepid woozle hunter has followed those swirling citations and footnotes, slashed through pages upon pages of scientific “research” and finally cornered the woozle between fact and fiction, the beast turns to roar its defiance… and disappears into a sour puff of bad science. 
Isaac T. Quill, woozle hunter extraordinaire, ventures into the wilds where woozles wander, tracks them down, bags them and displays them here at A Voice for Men for your edification. 
It’s nearly 60 years since one of the most influential books on statistics was published. “How To Lie With Statistics” 1954, and it’s still in print today. The book was both humour and truth and it’s reported to have “sold more copies than any other statistical text”.[1] The authors did a good job of showing how to milk the false statistics, but also why it didn’t matter what happened after the false statistics were uncovered. People “believe” and keep on believing even when doing so makes them look foolish. So many people, it seems, have problems dealing with numbers and statistics in their heads. It’s easy to bamboozle and razzle dazzle people, and by using emotive messages and the right numbers, hypnotize them into believing anything.
Woozles are “False Evidence by Citation“, and it’s hard to go and find where false citations and evidence come from. But, thankfully the internet and the growing access of sources is making it easier. It’s getting easier to catch pesky woozles and put them out of OUR Misery. Woozles turn into factoids, urban myths – they are propelled forward and fed by “White Hat Bias”[2] where the ends justify the means, and a little bit of distortion ends up being bad for everyone. Some even argue that wozzles should be left alone, just in case the truth makes it harder for the woozle owners and maintainers to get support and money out of people.
So I’ve been dealing with some very British woozles, and I have to say that the “genteel” excuses I have come across have left me staggered, amazed and wondering where I should stick the cucumber sammiches! One of the biggest issues is that there are so many woozles out there, but people just don’t know what to call them.
I was given the heads up on a BBC Radio 4 program “More or Less” from 2009. Tim Harford, “The Undercover Economist” at the Financial Times, has a chat with some experts and slaughters a woozle or two. He refers to them as “Rouge Statistics”.
I strongly recommend everyone listen to the program.[3] You can hear the strain of the horse carriage of “politics” being dragged by wild woozles and people not sure how to stop it. There are so many carefully chosen comments so as to not upset those who benefit most from the woozles, or to invite criticism, or worse. The careful breadcrumb trail of comments has allowed me to track the woozles ever so easily.
In early 2009, the BBC 10 O’Clock News suddenly spluttered out the following:

“The Government says incidents of domestic violence have fallen substantially, but it still affects 1 in 4 women. Indeed for women aged between 15 and 44 it’s the biggest cause of mortality.”

The old chestnut of women 15 to 44 … Blah Blah Blah. …and levels have fallen, too, but they never seem to drop below that magical 1 in 4 number.
That “15 to 44” woozle was debunked for the USA by Richard Gelles back in 2007 when he only half-jokingly referred to feminist views of Domestic Violence existing on “Nine Factoids And A Mantra”.[4] But evidently Gelles forget to send the BBC and the British government a memo, so there is the claim surfacing again 2 years later but with a very British twist – in fact it turns out the woozle has been circulating since the 1990’s. By the time Tim Harford was looking at the woozle it was being fed and spread by The Guardian newspaper,[5] and many others including Women’s Aid UK.[6] It had been “mutated” to be about Morbidity and not Mortality; it was claiming to be national or global with the new strain of infectious woozle embedded heavily in the Government. The viral views were turning up in Parliament itself,[7] The Home Office,[8]The Crown Prosecution Service, The Ministry of Justice and the list goes on. Them woozles are pesky and burrow to infest everywhere. But he also found that woozles mutate like a virus and so claims at the woozle applying internationally and globally also come up.
Of course, when you do some basic things, like asking the UK Office Of National Statistics about mortality for women 15 to 44, you get some quick and simple answers. Tim Harford happily reports:

“In the year 2007 nearly 6000 women aged between 15 and 44 died. What you claim as the largest cause of death depends on how broad your categories are, but over 2000 of those deaths were from cancer and other tumors. 1100 women were killed by external causes which would include domestic violence but also includes other assaults, suicide and all kinds of accidents.”

It’s simply not possible to make the real data fit the woozle in any way, so that’s one slaughtered woozle, and well done BBC for fumigating your own news department. What a pity that Civil Servants couldn’t be bothered to do the same inside the government.
But then Harford goes further; he deals with that International woozle and the claims of mortality and morbidity. He turns to Colin Mathers of the World Health Organisation. Colin deals in global data and I was also left with the impression that he’s one hell of a Tap Dancer too. Again I strongly recommend everyone listen to the original program, because the way Mr. Mathers has to dance around the data and speak so carefully to not upset “Interested parties” that it’s worthy of an award, and even a standing ovation on Broadway.
Even with all the dancing he’s able to confirm that the largest single cause of death globally is AIDS/HIV – and followed by tuberculosis and then suicide. In fact, the claims of domestic violence can’t even be fitted into the top 10 causes of death globally. Then Colin even pulls up the data for the UK and points out that the second largest cause of death in the UK is suicide. No. 1 is cancer, No. 2 is suicide – and Colin confirms that domestic violence can’t even make it into the top 5 in the UK charts.
It got me thinking about some other numbers. It’s worth remembering those claims being made about 2 UK women per week dying due to domestic violence – which makes 104 per year. How can the people spreading the woozle think that 104 is bigger than 2000 deaths from cancer? Can’t they do basic maths?
On top of that, the claim of 2 deaths per week has been questioned over and over, and in 2011 the British Crime Survey showed 88 deaths and not 104.[9] It seems that the number 2 is more emotive than 1.69. The 2 per week figure just looks good in media campaigns such as this one from Women’s Aide, 2009 and ongoing, where they use every woozle imaginable so they can to get people to hand over money.
I even went as far as to look up Section 2 of the UK Fraud Act 2006, which does make it clear that knowingly making false claims to get money out of people is called Fraud, and it’s quite illegal! It only has to be shown that the person or persons making the claim may suspect or reasonably suspect the claims are false for it to be fraud. It’s definitely not the way for a professionally run charity to behave – knowingly making multiple false claims to get money.
But back to Radio 4 and “More or Less”: After Tim Harford has left the tap dancing Colin, he asks the UK Home Office if they can explain why the woozle is being used by government. Then we get my favourite line of all time:

“Since the Home Office confidently asserted it in the Ministerial Forward to their 2005 Document – ‘Domestic Violence: A National Review’, we asked them where they got it from. They gave us a statement in which they said that the statistic was used for ‘Illustrative Purposes’. Now there is some fine print for you.”

So there you have it – all UK government statistics are used only for “Illustrative Purposes” – and they are like window dressing and should never be taken seriously! Whichever civil servant came up with that little wheeze should get a promotion to the Ministry of Silly Walks and Chocolate Teapots. But it gets better ….

“Leaving the difficulties aside in collecting that statistic, morbidity then mutated into mortality. Global figures were used in the UK without any mention that they were global figures. Rape was dropped from the category without making any adjustments, and the whole lot was booted up the league table from 6th place to 1st place. Thank goodness for illustrative purposes, otherwise I’d be worried that a bogus statistic had echoes around the world, copied apparently without question into official reports, news bulletins and policy documents.”

I think Tim Harford may have been speaking tongue in cheek when he summed it all up that way! But what is most interesting is how people run for cover and only bother to look where woozles come from when they need to cover their backsides. The “Illustrative Purposes” claim dates all the way back to 1994 and the source even states that it uses homicide and rape only for “Illustrative purposes”.[10] Some poor civil servant was made to work hard to find that one and try to pass it all off to the BBC via a no doubt bemused, confused and badly used press officer. Oh what a tangled web we weave….
So anyone using the woozle of “Illustrative purposes” and knowing that it’s such a poor illustration either likes its cartoon nature, or they think the people hearing it need to be treated like children.
There is a name in the field of Domestic Violence that keeps on coming up everywhere you go in the UK. It’s Prof. Sylvia Wallby, holder of the UNESCO Chair in Gender Research at the University of Lancaster. Whenever the government needs an expert Sylvia is the one they call. It’s fascinating too, because when you listen to her it’s clear she is also an expert tap dancer.
She makes a most interesting and pointed comment about the British Crime Survey and Questions about Domestic Violence being asked. Now that little bread crumb led to pay dirt in the form of the Home Office Research Study 191 Domestic Violence: Findings from a new British Crime Survey self-completion questionnaire 1999.[11] It’s a hard document to locate; in fact I noticed that a great many documents from the UK government dealing with domestic violence are suddenly getting hard to find on-line. Hyperlinks are broken all over the place and the backups in The National Archive are in total disarray, with links to one document inexplicably going to the wrong place. But I’m persistent. So you get to page one of what is referred to as “HORS191″[11] and you find this:

Current levels of domestic violence
• 4.2% of women and 4.2% of men said they had been physically assaulted by a current or former partner in the last year.

Prof Wallby’s comments about surveys are that they are very useful, and whilst the original survey was very detailed, now a far less detailed survey is used. She was asked why and politically responds “It’s said because it’s too expensive to ask the longer set of questions …”.
Forgive me if I’m cynical, suspicious and even slack-jawed at the idea that it’s only cost that is the issue. Could it by any chance be linked to groups who hate reality and the very idea that men are being abused and attacked by women at home in statistical equality? If there are that many domestically violent women out there it simply can’t be blamed on the patriarchy without people asking how the patriarchy is making the women do it!
It gets very funny at the end of the program, when Tim Harford explains what happened when he spoke to some “Interest Groups” about the woozles. He asks Sylvia Wallby:

Some of the people we have talked to in the course of doing this piece have suggested that we shouldn’t be questioning this rouge statistic even though it isn’t true – we shouldn’t be questioning it because domestic violence is such a serious problem. Do you have sympathy with that view?

And her response:

I understand the view. It is difficult to be critical of something on such an important area, but I think that we have gone beyond the basics. Everybody now knows that domestic violence is a serious problem and now we need to know exactly the scale and shape of that problem, so we do need to be querying the figures but we do need to be improving them and the means collecting new and better data.

I do love it when people use every trick in the book to show where the skeletons are buried, and then even hand you a spade fitted with GPS to go and dig them up. But, I still have to wonder why – if quality statistics can help identify and address a problem – why the British Government decided after 1999 to collect lower quality statistics about domestic violence?
So having had it made so easy to see one woozle slaughtered, I was left wondering about that claim of 1 in 4 women will suffer DV in her lifetime. It’s so emotive and all over the place, but no one seems to know where it comes from. So I just had to dig and go back to places where there was any paw print left by a woozle connected to the 1 in 4… and then, Hallelujah.
It turns out that the mystery 1 in 4 figure also comes from the closing days of the 1990’s, and it’s cited as being handed out by the Council Of Europe (COE) Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – 2002. It seems that after the UN decided in 1993 to have Global treaties to protect women, and after the Fourth UN World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995, everyone went research mad and figures on DV against women were being thrown about all over the place. And some incontinently kept on finding that women were also perpetrating domestic violence against men and their own children, too. Women were even battering and beating up other women.
The problem was each time I looked for any trace of this 1 in 4 claim in the readily available COE papers from 2002 there simply wasn’t any trace of it. I also spotted that a number of links to this document from 2002 were diverting to a newer document dated April 2011 – or that they led to copies of Just the Recommendation Rec(2002)5 with the evidence behind the recommendations removed and missing.[12] I kept finding copies of Explanations and Memorandums from any year by 2002 and not one of these later documents held the mystical 1 in 4 figure.
I worked the problem again and again. It was odd because it seemed that some folks didn’t want the old documents to be found …. But I found them. Rec(2002)5 April 2002 with “Explanatory Memorandum.[13]

The 1 in 4 figure is admitted to be doubtful in the original document, based on only 10 studies where there are doubts about methodology and so much more. It’s just that so many copies of the publicly available Rec(2005)5 have had whole sections removed – the “Memorandum” where the 1 in 4 figure is lurking along with so many doubts. Notes are also removed, and I found Supra not 14 most fascinating. In fact here it is word for word:

In particular, the authors examined reports according to which, for the past thirty years, discussions on domestic violence have tended to cast men in the role of aggressors and women in the role of victims with the result that today, in the United Kingdom, male victims receive scant attention from both government policy-makers and the community at large. According to these reports, there are over forty-five homes for battered women and their children in England and Wales, but not a single government-funded facility for men, who have no one to turn to, even just for information. It would seem that the great majority of male victims of violence feel that, on the whole, the police and social welfare agencies are unsupportive and, in some cases, downright hostile. On 7 January 1999, a Channel 4 programme (“Dispatches”) featuring a report on a hundred men who had suffered domestic violence revealed how 25% of these men – and not the female partner who had attacked them – had been arrested by the police when they sought help.
Only seven of the women had been arrested and of these, none were convicted. See Home Office Research Study 191 on “Domestic Violence: Findings from a new British Crime Survey self-completion questionnaire” by Catriona Mirrles-Black and “The physical aggression of women and men to their partners: A quantitative analysis” by John Archer, University of Central Lancashire, United Kingdom.

OH My – the Council of Europe in 2002 pointing to the UK government for not taking male victims of DV seriously?
And the Council of Europe point everyone to HORS191 published 1999 where on page one it reports parity 4.3% between male and female DV victims?
It also points to Channel 4 Dispatches, 7 January 1999 – the program titled “Male Victims Of Domestic Violence“. When the program was broadcast Channel 4 had carried out the largest single survey ever in the UK of DV against men. In one chilling line (which some would find comical), a male victim says how he and his partner were well known at a national retail chain because they “…went at least once or twice a month to buy a new set of saucepans”.
The Channel 4 program features many people and experts such as Prof Kevin Brown, presently Head of Institute and Chair of Forensic Psychology and Child Health Nottingham University. Prof. Brown reviewed and analysed all of the data collected by Dispatches and made his own reports.[14][15] He found some interesting facts:

“Interestingly, the research shows that one third of the victims were attacked while they were asleep in bed, which is very different to wife abuse. However, the kinds of mental abuse suffered are the same for all victims, male or female, involving social and emotional isolation. Nevertheless, there does seem an increase in the use of the children as an object of threat especially in relation to custody disputes.”

But maybe the most pointed reference is not for either HORS191 or the largest survey of male victims ever in the UK by Channel 4, it’s that last entry mentioning John Archer, University of Central Lancashire. The paper referred to may seem innocuous but it was and remains revolutionary because it says things some people really don’t like: the main issue being that Archer keeps finding in Domestic Violence research from across the globe that women are as aggressive as men, and in many societies they are more aggressive and violent behind closed doors. “The physical aggression of women and men to their partners: A quantitative analysis”.[16] He says:

The limited data from other western nations indicate that the pattern of more women than men showing physical aggression was not restricted to the United States. Indeed, the effect size was significantly higher for three other western nations than for the United States.

So you have parity in numbers, media coverage of the issues and data showing that women are more frequently aggressive than men. No wonder Archer also points out that his findings undermine the feminist ideals and views:

One may ask whether it is possible to explain the considerable number of women using physical aggression toward their partners from the background of coercive male power, which is crucial to both feminist and evolutionary explanations. It is certainly a finding that is predicted by neither approach and at first sight is more consistent with gender-free explanations emphasizing individual differences and relationship problems.

Archer keeps pointing out that the data analysed across multiple studies from across the globe keeps on showing that in western European societies the claims of male aggression were wrong and beyond that the claims of patriarchy as the cause of male aggression are an invalid view that couldn’t be supported.
No wonder the full Counsel Of Europe documents, notes and memoranda were so hard to find – because when you found out that the 1 in 4 claim was from limited and doubtful sources, you also found that the European Commission was wondering exactly what the UK government under Mr Blair was getting up to, and why male DV victims were being ignored.
But the 1 in 4 claim is still not fully de-woozled, and then it gets interesting because as the Council of Europe moved forward from 2002 and monitored and implemented treaties about violence and women they seem to forget the 1 in 4 claim. They even kept changing their language until they couldn’t say “domestic violence” any more and just use the term “domestic abuse”.[12] So in April 2011 The Counsel Of Europe were saying that “Secondary data analysis support a conservative estimate that about 12% to 15% of all women have been in a relationship of domestic abuse after the age of 16.”
So given that domestic abuse has domestic violence inside it and the figures provided show that domestic abuse is between 1 in 8 and 1 in 7, its clear that by April 2011 they know that the Jig was up with the 1 in 4 claim. It’s just fascinating that the Council of Europe suddenly can’t put a figure on the levels of Domestic Violence in Europe after so much work has been done to find out the real levels over more than a decade. It does make you wonder if the Eurocrats are up to doing basic work and delivering basic reports in consistent language.
So I had to turn to the British Crime Survey and found someone had been doing some homework at the ManKind Initiative here in the UK. They have been reading the 2011/12 statistic from the Office of National Statistics Focus on: Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2011/12.[12] It gets interesting:

  • 40% of domestic abuse victims are male: for every five victims, three will be female, two will be male.
  • 7% of women and 5% of men were estimated to have experienced any domestic abuse in the last year, equivalent to an estimated 1.2 million female and 800,000 male victims

The truly interesting thing is that the language has been changed, so now there are no references to Domestic Violence – only grades of Domestic Abuse. So that’s how they have been getting away with making the claims – the last time the Council of Europe gave a figure for Domestic Violence was back in 2002, and as they haven’t given a new figure and NEVER will, the woozled claim of 1 in 4 can be used and used until the cows come home.
But still, language isn’t everything and you find these sort of statistics:

  • In 2011/12, 4% of women (675,000) and 3% of men (491,000) experienced partner abuse: a split of 57%/43% (for every seven victims –four will be female, three will be male).
  • 1.1% of men and 1.3% of women were victims of severe force at the hands of their partner during 2011/12. Over a lifetime the figures are 6.1% and 13.2% respectively.

Apparently “severe force” is the new meaning of domestic violence – you have to go to different documents[17] to find that:

  • “Minor force” is classified as an affirmative response to the statement ‘pushed you, held you down or slapped you’.
  • “Severe force” involves being kicked, hit, bitten, choked, strangled, threatened with a weapon, threats to kill, use of a weapon or some other kind of force.

So now it’s clear that the new lifetime prevalence figures from the office of national Statistics in the UK are 100/13 = 7.69, or 1 in 8.
At last, after so many years, so many oddly lost and untraceable documents, and so many changes of words and meanings, the 1 in 4 is no more.
Ain’t hunting woozles fun? – you never know what you will dig up. One thing that is becoming very clear: woozles don’t just produce flashy and false statistics to razzle-dazzle people. They also work very hard to bury and hide real facts and statistics. It can also get very political when an embarrassment of politicians is involved: they have not been elder statesmen, they’ve just been playing white knight to a woozle in a frock claiming distress.
Image © 2o13 TyphonBlue

  1. Steele, J. M. (2005). Darrell Huff and Fifty Years of How to Lie with Statistics. Statistical Science,20(3), 205–209. doi:10.1214/088342305000000205
  2. Cope, M. B., & Allison, D. B. (2010). White hat bias: examples of its presence in obesity research and a call for renewed commitment to faithfulness in research reporting. International journal of obesity (2005), 34(1), 84–8; discussion 83. doi:10.1038/ijo.2009.239
  3. Tim Harford. (2009). More Or Less. BBC Radio 4. 15 May 2009 –http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00k9p0t
  4. Gelles, R. J. (2007). The Politics Of Research: The Use, Abuse And Misuse Of Social Science Data – the Cases Of Intimate Partner Violence. Family Court Review, 45(1), 42–51. doi:10.1111/j.1744-1617.2007.00127.x
  5. Abdela, L. (2008, November 28). Stop looking the other way. The Guardian.
  6. Women’s Aid, Please Help Us To End Please Help Us To End Domestic Violence Funding Agreement Introduced 2009, the Expect Respect Education toolkit and multiple other documents.
  7. House of Commons – Home Affairs – Sixth Report – Definitions and nature of abuse – Domestic violence. (2008). – Key Facts “Domestic violence is the largest cause of morbidity worldwide in women aged 19-44, greater than war, cancer or motor vehicle accidents.”
  8. Home Office. (2005). Domestic Violence: A National Report. March 2005, (March), Page 1.
  9. ManKind Initiative, 21 key facts about male victims, May 2013
  10. Heise, L. (1994). Gender-based abuse: the global epidemic. Cadernos de Saúde Pública, 10, S135–S145 doi:10.1590/S0102-311X1994000500009
  11. Catriona Mirrlees-Black. (1999). Home Office Research Study 191 Domestic Violence: Findings from a new British Crime Survey self-completion questionnaire. HORS191.
  12. Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence Explanatory report 12 April 2011, Page 1. Council of Europe – Human Rights and Rule of Law – Gender Equality – Violence Against Women
  13. Recommendation Rec(2002)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the protection of women against violence adopted on 30 April 2002 and Explanatory Memorandum – https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=www.coe.int/t/pace/campaign/stopviolence/Source/rec2002(5)_en.doc and WebCitation Archive Copy
  14. Browne, D. K. (1998). DISPATCHES : “BATTERED MEN” SURVEY (1998) SUMMARY OF DR KEVIN BROWNE’S ANALYSIS OF RESULTS (verbatim quotes), 1–4.
  15. Dispatches (1998). ‘Battered Men’ Survey: Detailed Survey results. [A Summary of the results of this survey by the Dispatches programme highlighting the experiences of 100 male victims of domestic violence in the UK was broadcast on Channel 4 on the 7 January 1999].
  16. Archer, J. (2000). Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 126(5), 651–680. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.126.5.651
  17. User Guide to Crime Statistics for England and Wales April 2013 – Office Of National Statistics, page 29

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