Thursday, October 28, 2010

Paul Elam's big mistake on domestic violence: A case study in MRA self-deception

I didn't think I was going to reply to Paul Elam's latest post in our abortive "debate" on domestic violence  -- see here for the details on why it fell apart, and here for details on his childish and unethical behavior since and here for the rest of my debate posts -- but he's really outdone himself this time, with an utterly spectacular misreading of an important research report on violence against women. Indeed, I've read over the relevant portion of his post several times, because I can't quite believe he's saying what he seems to be saying. If he is, and I have no other explanation for his remarks, his post becomes something of a case study in the way in which antifeminist dogma can distort even the most basic analysis of empirical data.

In the context of my debate with Elam, it's not an insignificant error. Indeed, Elam sees his erroneous conclusion on this research as a sort of trump card in our debate, the grand finale to his final post in the debate. The only problem is that he's completely wrong.

You don't have to take my word for it. To make sure there was absolutely no doubt that Elam was misinterpreting the report, I contacted one of the report's authors. She indeed confirmed that Elam's interpretation was flat out wrong. I'll get to that in a minute.

Let's get into the details, shall we?

The report in question is one I cited in my initial post, titled Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey. (EDIT: You can find a pdf of it here.) The paper, co-written by Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, summarizes the findings of a massive survey on violence jointly undertaken by the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which, despite the title, also dealt with violence against men. The researchers surveyed 16,000 people, divided equally between men and women, about the violence they had experienced over their lifetimes -- specifically, whether or not they had been raped, physically assaulted, or stalked.

Elam's ideologically driven misreading of the report starts with a misreading of the opening paragraph of the report, a brief historical summary of how the rise of feminism led researchers to start to seriously pay attention to violence against women:
Violence against women first came to be viewed as a serious social problem in the early 1970s, in part because of the reemergence of the Women’s Movement. In unprecedented numbers, scholars trained in such diverse disciplines as philosophy, literature, law, and sociology began to examine violence against women in the context of a feminist ideology.
All of this is a pretty straightforward accounting of what actually happened. But, the researchers continue:
Despite the resulting outpouring of research on violence against women, particularly in the areas of rape and intimate partner violence, many gaps remain in our understanding of violence against women. Until now, empirical data on the relationship between certain types of violence against women, such as childhood victimization and subsequent adult victimization, have been limited. Reliable information on minority women’s experiences with violence and on the consequences of violence against women, including rates of injury and use of medical services, is also limited.
So far, the meaning of these remarks is crystal clear: Though feminism inspired a great outpouring of research on violence against women, there was still insufficient reliable empirical data to measure the true extent of the problem.

The researchers then go on to present the details of the National Violence Against Women Survey, a study designed to provide precisely what they said was lacking: reliable empirical data on the various forms of violence against women.  (In order to provide more context for this data, and to provide a basis for comparison, the study also asked the same questions to an equal number of men.)

Elam, though, reads this relatively straightforward introduction to the report as a sinister statement of purpose. Highlighting the phrases "Women's Movement" and "in the context of a feminist ideology," he declares:
Yes, in this the very first paragraph of the study, they identify not as academicians, but feminist ideologues. With a profound lack of erudition that can only be rooted in hubristic hegemony, they inform readers from the beginning that this is a political action. Straight from jump.
Not a promising start for Elam. But we haven't gotten to Elam's biggest error. 

Elam's Great Misunderstanding starts off innocently enough: he cites data from the report on rape and physical assault that shows that, with the exception of the category of rape, men report suffering more violence than women. This is a fairly unsurprising result; numerous studies have found the same thing.

Note that this data measures violence overall, NOT intimate partner violence by itself. Most of the violence against men is in fact perpetrated by other men.

Elam then shows a chart from the study that looks at the incidence of intimate partner violence, broken down into various categories of violence; it shows women more than three times as likely to report being victimized by IPV than men.

It's what Elam does next that truly boggles the mind. After noting that the data did indeed seem to suggest that women are the primary victims of IPV, he firmly declares this conclusion "wrong." No, he says, what the dastardly feminist researchers did was to "factor weigh for under reporting [but] to their disgrace they did not figure it in to the graphs."

As proof for this, Elam quotes a relatively straightforward passage in the text that discusses some of these results, and specifically refers back to the chart in question:
It is important to note that differences between women’s and men’s rates of physical assault by an intimate partner become greater as the seriousness of the assault increases. For example, women were two to three times more likely than men to report that an intimate partner threw something that could hurt or pushed, grabbed, or shoved them. However, they were 7 to 14 times more likely to report that an intimate partner beat them up, choked or tried to drown them, threatened them with a gun, or actually used a gun on them (see exhibit 8).
After quoting this text, Elam triumphantly declares victory:
And so there you have it.  A rough sketch of the math will lead you to a very familiar situation.

Domestic Violence- Women are half the problem.
Huh? The first time I read this I was simply baffled. Elam posts a chart showing that women report being the victim of IPV more often than men do, then a paragraph discussing the very same results, which says exactly the same thing, and which specifically refers back to that very same chart, and somehow concludes that ... women are responsible for half the problem?

It took several rereadings for me to even grasp how he might have come to that utterly erroneous conclusion. Apparently, as best as I can figure it, he has interpreted the word "report" in the text to mean "overreport" instead of, you know, "report." (Or that it indicated in some way that women overreported in comparison to men, who underreported, or something along these lines.) So that, as Elam figures it, the numbers in the text basically cancel out the numbers in the chart. In fact, the numbers in the text reflect the exact same data as the numbers in the chart.

Thus Elam transforms, in his mind at least, an empirical report of survey results that challenge his central claim -- that women are half the problem in domestic violence -- into one that proves his pet theory, and which reveals the perfidity of devious, cunning feminists.

Just so there would be absolutely no question that Elam is completely mistaken in his conclusion, I got in touch with Patricia Tjaden, one of the key researchers behind the survey, and the co-author of the summary Elam quoted from. She told me that, indeed, his interpretation of the figures in the paper is flat out wrong. As she put it in an email:
Yes, you are right in your interpretation of our results: Generally
speaking, in our study "reported" means respondents disclosed that they had
ever been a victim of a specific type of violent victimization. So, for
example, as presented in Exhibit 3 in our report on intimate partner
violence ... 8.5 % of women compared to 0.6% of men
disclosed that they had been beaten up by an intimate partner at some time
in their lifetime.  It should be noted that some were beaten up more than
once, but these estimates reflect only if they "ever had."  Thus, (surveyed)
women were 14 times more likely than (surveyed) men to report ever being
beaten up by an intimate partner [8.5/0.6 = 14.17.]
I have no idea what your [debate] opponent means when he said our
estimates reflect over-reporting.  Perhaps he meant that women are more
likely than men to report victimization to an interviewer?  There is little
research on what influences women and men to disclose victimization during
telephone surveys.  We conducted a small study during the course of the
NVAWS to see if interviewer gender impacted male respondents' responses to
survey questions.  (We didn't do it for women because all the women were
interviewed by female respondents.)  We found that male respondents were
more likely to disclose sensitive information, such as age, income, fear and
accommodation behavior, and recent victimization, to male interviewers.
This contradicts findings from previous research that shows respondents -
male and female alike - feel more comfortable disclosing sensitive
information to female interviews in face-to-face surveys.
The paper she is citing here is this one, available online here (pdf format):

Tjaden, P & Thoennes, N. (2000).  Extent, nature, and consequences of
intimate partner violence:  Findings from the National Violence Against
Women Survey.  Washington, DC: US Department of Justice NCJ 181867.

The only real question is whether Elam has distorted the results of the NVAWS deliberately. I don't actually think so. He is enough of an ideologue to believe that a report based on a massive government study and which has been exposed to an enormous amount of scrutiny over the years in fact secretly proves his pet theory.

One final note: Elam also makes a big deal of the fact that the NVAW used the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) in its surveys, a research tool which I have criticized in my previous posts in the debate. As is often the case with Elam, this is a half-truth. The survey, as Tjadan noted in her email to me, "used questions similar to those in the CTS, but framed them differently," and thus got very different results.

I will end with another comment from Tjaden, which helps to put this debate in a broader context:

I know this debate over whether men and women are equally likely to
perpetrate violence against their intimate partners is very confusing and I
have spent a good part of my career attempting to convince fellow
researchers and the federal government that we need to spend time and money
figuring out why different studies (i.e. different methodological approaches)
have yielded such disparate findings.  This would be far more fruitful than
pointing fingers at each other and calling each other names.

This is a topic I will take up further in future posts.


  1. Poor David. I'm actually begining to pity you. It's standard for researchers to admit the shortcomings of their research when publishing. Doing this does not mean that they invalidate their own findings.

    If you can't understand that then there's really no helping you.

  2. David wrote to Paul:

    "You do not have my permission to post my debate contributions on your site any longer. Since you do not have legal ownership of any of my writings, I expect you to take them down immediately.

    I will put my debate contributions up on my own site. You will be free to link to them, of course, and say anything you want about them.

    I wrote you about this before, and got no response. I expect a response this time."


    "You embarrassed, humiliated and schooled me during the debate. I ended up looking like a fucking idiot. I'm taking my toys and leaving!

    Also dear Internet Gods, please destroy all evidence of my embarrassment!"



  3. @David

    Great final post in this debate. You really did a wonderful job of debunking Paul's claims.

    Victory for David!

  4. To give Paul some credit, given a sufficiently "rough sketch of the math", 2 + 2 = 5.

  5. "Elam, though, reads this relatively straightforward introduction to the report as a sinister statement of purpose."
    Erm, well, it's clear that the researchers are not interested in violence "per se", only in violence *against women*, thus they are clearly politically biased (as also evidenced by their other statements) - and it's quite possible that this evident bias can distort their findings. Usually it's considered "bad form" in scientific circles if someone starts a research with clear intent on "finding" very specific predefined results.
    He's quite right that these researchers are feminist idealogues; in fact the researchers themselves are admitting that much.

    But your other point seems to be valid. I was a bit surprised how he seemed to misunderstand some stuff. (It happenes to everyone sometimes though.)

    Also, the "official" information out there is the survey used the CTS. You can't blame anyone if it turns out it used a modified version of the CTS. And I wonder, is it good if politically biased people are modifying standard questionnaires? I don't think so.

    Still, this whole excercise is rather meaningless because
    1. The facts - more-or-less accepted by everyone - are that women initiate at least as much DV as men but are hurt more often because they are more fragile. It means that women's nature is just as violent as men's. This is underscored by lesbian DV.
    2. There are lot more serious questions out there. For example: Would any kind of - real or imaginary - gender disparity in domestic violence justify laws protecting abusive women and punishing innocent men? Is it "fair" for women to recieve lighter sentences than men for the same crimes? Is it justified to give funding to shelters for women and deny it from shelters for men? Is it right to demonize men and spread stereotypes that women are always innocent victims, as the media does every day?
    The answer to these questions is no.
    The feminist notions which keep the DV industry in motion are false. Not all men are perps, not all women are victims. Female DV is not automatically self-defense. Lorena Bobbitt was not a heroine. Mary Winkler had no right to kill her husband and it's outrageous that she even got the custody of their children back.

  6. "Closing thoughts"?
    I'm rather disappointed because we never got to where it would begin to be interesting. This debate was aborted while still in phase 1.

  7. David Futrelle wrote:

    The paper she is citing here is this one, available online here (pdf format):

    Tjaden, P & Thoennes, N. (2000). Extent, nature, and consequences of
    intimate partner violence: Findings from the National Violence Against
    Women Survey. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice NCJ 181867.

    ...a report based on a massive government study...

    Let me say that the study above was not exactly "massive." There were 1993 self-described victims of intimate partner violence, of which 73% (1451) were women and 27% (542) were men. Of the quantity who were abused, 41.5% (827) were women and 19.9% (397) were men. Within the quantity of injured victims (1224), 68% (827) were women and 32% (397) were men. So in this study, women were injured by about a 2-1 ratio, according to their own self-reporting. For every 2 female injury victims, there was 1 injured male. That is a significant rate of injuries sustained by males, and it warrants more resources for male victims than there currently are. Battered women's shelters report that 95% of their clientele are women, even though in Tjaden's study one third of the injury victims were males. Isn't it the possibility of the victims sustaining an injury that makes intimate partner violence such a dangerous and serious phenomenon?

    I posted a breakdown of the study results in table format here:

    Lastly, I wish that the debate between David and Paul was done with some sort of outcome at stake, rather than just a referendum on the merits of the respective movements that each person represents (feminism for David vs. the men's rights movement for Paul). I consider the whole debate largely to be not only a waste of time but even counterproductive to assisting actual victims of partner violence -- both male and female -- who need assistance. There should have been some sort of wager where each debater's supporters indicated their support for their representative by pledging a donation to a domestic violence service provider of their choice. A show of support for either debater could have then taken the form of a donation, rather than a snarky comment that achieves absolutely zilch. At least that way something positive would come out of the whole discussion.

  8. Asking 16,000 people detailed questions about violence seems pretty big to me.

    Also, John -- were you the person who gave me that citation on the McDowell false rape allegation study? I bought the first edition of the book said to contain the paper, and it arrived today; it in fact contained a different paper, which dealt more generally with false rape investigations.

  9. Good job, David! I'm impressed with your diligent research!

  10. Paul Elam is a narcissist of the highest order. Seriously, it's fun to poke fun of his self-focused viewpoints and incredible arrogance, but interacting with a sick person like him should be avoided.

  11. @David:

    "Asking 16,000 people detailed questions about violence seems pretty big to me."

    But those people only yielded 1993 abuse victims, and of that, 1224 were injured. One third of those injury victims were males. So if you have confidence in Tjaden's study, then you must accept the findings that undermine your claim that women were "7 to 14 times more likely" to report being attacked in certain ways (implying, inaccurately, that female victims are 7-14 times more likely than male victims to be attacked at all). The injury rate is the bottom line as far as I'm concerned, and a significant number of injury victims are males. To ignore that you must ignore the entire study; but to cite the study then you must acknowledge that a third of the injury victims from the study's outcome are males.

    "Also, John -- were you the person who gave me that citation on the McDowell false rape allegation study? I bought the first edition of the book said to contain the paper, and it arrived today; it in fact contained a different paper, which dealt more generally with false rape investigations."

    Yes, that was me. I got the ISBN for that reference from one of the study's authors, Dr. Neil Hibler. When I originally received that book, I noticed that it didn't contain the study's detailed findings, but rather only conclusions that were based on the study's findings. I called Dr. Hibler back and asked him to clarify if that reference was the same study, and he said that it was based on the study's findings although not the study itself. He said that the data from the McDowell study is under lock and key by the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations and said that based policies implemented by the U.S. Air Force you would need to invoke the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in order to get a copy. He also said that there were actually two copies that they made, one for the FBI and the other for publication in the Air Force's old publication Forensic Science Digest.

    Dr. Hibler, the study's minor co-author, also told me that when the main author, Dr. McDowell, released the study, its findings so enraged the feminist community that Colorado Democratic congressional representative Pat Schroeder, a feminist, went so far as to contact the Secretary of the Air Force in order to get Dr. McDowell fired. It is no wonder that the McDowell study now is only available through a FOIA request. It's been buried.

  12. Once again, David is proved to be an incompetent fucking moron LOL

  13. John, thanks for the additional info about the McDowell paper. I'll give the one in the book a read, though it mostly seems to be about techniques of investigation.

    As for the other stuff, I'm a bit baffled by your objection. I quoted that part of the report because that's what Elam quoted; the point of this post was to show Elam's error.

  14. As a professional Web Developer I’m going to spend some quality time over the next week giving Paul’s site some pro-bono link juice so that anyone who Googles for David Futrelle will get to experience his pissy, immature, 10 year old brain at its finest. Perhaps his potential employers will think twice before hiring such an obnoxious, mindless mangina.

  15. @David:

    "As for the other stuff, I'm a bit baffled by your objection. I quoted that part of the report because that's what Elam quoted; the point of this post was to show Elam's error."

    The point of your post is to keep sniping back and forth in a blog war between feminists and MRAs that accomplishes nothing. MRAs are making the case that more resources need to be devoted to male victims of intimate partner violence. You have written that in your perception, male victims exist and should receive services. But to me you seem to be saying that MRAs are inflating male victimization, and have therefore downplayed the notion that male victims of IPV need to receive far more effective public response in terms of both assistance and outreach. You have even gone so far as to say that if MRAs are serious about helping male victims, they should build their own domestic violence shelters (implying that male victims are the problem -- and an inflated contrivance -- of the MRM).

    We need to stop looking at intimate partner violence through the lens of gender. Assist all victims and acknowledge the prevalence of all victims. 95 percent of clientele served by domestic violence shelters are women, according to some feminists online, and they use this figure to claim that 95 percent of the actual victims are women, despite the injury rate that is quoted in Tjaden's study and the hundreds of other studies conducted over the past 30 years which indicate a significant rate of male victimization.

    If you acknowledge male victimization, then you too should do your part to address the unaddressed needs of male victims. What are you and Paul doing anyway, slinging all this mud back and forth? What is this accomplishing, except demonizing each other's character and politics? This is stupid! The whole direction of this debate is not helping anybody.

  16. One big disappointment after another.

  17. Women instigating half DV is replicated in 100s of studies, its actally an unsuprising outcome given that men and women are both human. The only studies that dont repliate that standard are ones divised by feminists, who view the world through an ideological lens in which patriarchal abuse theory is reality and sculpt their work to reflect that artifical reality.

    This is a great study (see below), as well as rates of abuse there are rates of dominance by gender and a break down of instigtion. Going by memory, the most likely women to sustain injury are dominant abusers, the least common form of DV is male on female nonrecriprical the second most common is female on male non recriprical and the most common is recriprical.

    IN 32 NATIONS1
    Murray A. Straus

    As for deception, you are on continuing this debate after you lost and your equally dishonest supportrs ae declaring you the winner, Im now convinced that you are a group university age girls and look forward to seeing feminists behave like this on even more public stages.

  18. John, you honestly don't think that it's worthwhile to correct a gross misrepressntaton of an important research paper?

    As for the debate overall, well, I hope you are raising the same objections on Elam's site.

    Also: What do you think of his piece about "Bash a Violent Bitch Month?" If you think it's counterproductive, have you raised the issue on his site?

  19. David, would an article titled "Base a Violent Patriarch Month" also raise your ire?

    Random Brother

  20. @David:

    "John, you honestly don't think that it's worthwhile to correct a gross misrepresentation of an important research paper?"

    Paul's point was that historically, much of the inquiry into the perpetration of domestic violence was informed by feminist ideology. Ideology is a poison to empirical research. One example of this is the way that the U.S. Department of Justice collected data on domestic violence perpetration from the inception of the shelter movement in the 1970s up until the early 1990s. Prior to the early 1990s, the DOJ didn't even ask about female perpetration of domestic violence. Only when the Centers for Disease Control offered up a grant to the DOJ in the early 1990s did the DOJ even begin asking about female perpetration. This according to Dr. Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire. Another example of ideology (rather than evidence) driving public policy is arrest rates. In 1980 in California, the arrest rate for domestic violence suspects was 95 percent males, but the quantity of arrests for DV at that time was far less than it is today. Then in 1986, states began implementing warrantless arrest; no longer were the police required by law to get an arrest warrant if they felt that they had "probable cause." As a result, the quantity of arrests for domestic violence skyrocketed, still with the vast majority (90%+) of arrestees being male suspects. Over time the unbalanced ratio between male and female leveled off a slight amount, but only because so many people were being arrested. Then in the early-1990s, many states begin implementing a new policy called mandatory arrest. For the first time, females were getting arrested in large numbers (but were still a small minority in terms of the percentage). Feminists claimed that it was unjust for violent women to be arrested like this, because women were the victims and they were being blamed for fighting back against their aggressors. And so to rectify this so-called injustice, some states began adopting a "primary aggressor" doctrine which helped police to continue gender profiling of suspected offenders. As of 2004, in California at least, 80 percent of arrestees for DV were women [source], despite the growing evidence of gender parity in their perpetration.

    To my mind, it is a valid point to criticize ideology as a motivating factor behind both arrest policy and data collection. The data should not be gathered in a gender-biased way, and the response should not be predicated on skewed data.

    @David Futrelle:

    "As for the debate overall, well, I hope you are raising the same objections on Elam's site."

    I haven't so far. But I'm not going to run around the Web being some sort of policeman on your behalf or anyone else's.

    "Also: What do you think of his piece about "Bash a Violent Bitch Month?" If you think it's counterproductive, have you raised the issue on his site?"

    Put it this way... Until that post, Paul was a contributing author on my site. He's not now.

  21. Don't point the finger at me! I'm the finger pointer here, God damn it!

  22. @Eoghan

    "I'm now convinced that [David is] a group [of] university age girls"

    You're convinced of that, are you? Back in reality, he's my older brother, and I just turned 41. So you're zero for three there.

    Do You Receive a Lighter Prison Sentence Because You Are a Woman? An Economic Analysis of Federal Criminal Sentencing Guidelines
    University of Connecticut
    Differences in Frequency of Violence and Reported Injury Between Relationships With Reciprocal and Nonreciprocal Intimate Partner Violence
    American Health Association
    Men Shouldn't Be Overlooked as Victims of Partner Violence
    American Psychiatric Association

    There are plenty of reliable sources proving that many women are violent too and that they get away with lenient sentences.

    Futrelle, a male feminist, never made any comment about the links to sources I offered to him.

    Well, what can he really say about? Ignorance and to remain silent is also a reply...

  24. Joe, I have some really weird news for you.

  25. Whoops, correction:

    Wrote: "As of 2004, in California at least, 80 percent of arrestees for DV were women [source], despite the growing evidence of gender parity in perpetration."

    Meant: "As of 2004, in California at least, 80 percent of arrestees for DV were men [source], despite the growing evidence of gender parity in perpetration."

  26. Random Brother, uh, yeah, "bash a violent dude" week would be pretty much equally obnoxious.

  27. If thats so why not you go after Jezebele, a publication that does actually promote domestic violence instead of misrepresenting that satirical pieve on DV. Seems to me that here, the correctness of an act depends on the sex or political position of the actor, same story when you are trying to sweep abusers of one sex under the carpet while slandering the other with pusedo scientific research.

  28. yeah, David, but don't forget:

    Men Shouldn't Be Overlooked as Victims of Partner Violence
    American Psychiatric Association

    To ignore such research is not a good way to reply, you should know that...

  29. It's funny how the political correct poops like David just can't get around the fact that women are just as capable of losing their temper as men. It's called humanity, it has nothing to do with gender.

    It's funny how the political correct poops like David just can't get around the fact that women are just as capable of losing their temper as men. It's called humanity, it has nothing to do with gender.

    But thanks for feminism, that logic is pulled under the rug to claimer female victim status

  30. Obama's new plan (as of oct. 27):
    "End Violence Against Women"
    What about men?
    This is exactly the feminist bullshit approach we should be fighting against.
    This is a f*ckin DISGRACE that after 50 years of loud-mouthed feminists shrieking for EKVALITEE, in 2010 we're still here; government programs are designed to help one gender exclusively.
    "to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence and enable survivors to break the cycle of abuse" - this is exactly the f*cked-up media bias we were talking about. By saying "protect victims" but protecting only women they imply that only women are victims of DV.

  31. David, you're strangely silent on thing, namely the video which Elam linked in his post. I'm talking about this:
    It has several valid points, it's practically bulletproof and it's enough to demolish scores of anti-MRA arguments.


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