Friday, June 10, 2011


The ‘Village Voice’ paper has been tracking a recent effort to generate a groundswell for more funding to combat allegedly vastly-increasing numbers of female minors sex-trafficking on the Internet, using what the paper forthrightly describes as “junk science”.

I want to go over this briefly simply to give an example of how “science” is used in advanced-level ‘advocacy’ to manipulate public opinion and stampede it, thus creating the pretext for advocacy ‘pressure’ on politicians and legislators to pass more laws and – especially nowadays – provide more funding, especially when abetted by sensation-hungry media who ‘report’ without actually reading any ‘reports’ that claim to prove the sensation-du-jour.

The Women’s Funding Network has recently been going after assorted internet classified sites for allowing underage females to offer themselves for whatever of a sexual nature. In September of last year a subcommittee of the US House Judiciary Committee was treated to “vivid and chilling accounts of underage prostitution” enabled by internet classified sites, which is claimed to be “exploding at an astronomical rate”.

For the past six months, such activity, said the chief program officer of the Network, “has risen exponentially” and in “three diverse states”. The ‘Village Voice’ article notes that the claim has received major attention from a number of media outlets, print and electronic. Which helped when the chief program officer, one Deborah Richardson, embarked forthwith on a nation-wide tour to raise public support, consciousness, and funds.

As the ‘Village Voice’ article notes, the ‘study’ consisted of some unidentified persons merely looking at photographs reputedly taken from the sites, and guessing their ages. As the article puts it pithily, “there is no science” here.

Not only professional academic researchers but even police agencies are not impressed with ‘the numbers’. The methodology of the ‘study’ is flawed from the get-go.

First, the ‘study’ is not even one undertaken on their own initiative by independent professional academic scientific researchers; it is the result of a commercial venture in which the Network itself (hardly disinterested since it stands to gain a great deal of money and status) hired the researchers.

Second, the Network didn’t engage the services of professional researchers, let alone independent academically certified and accomplished researchers, but instead hired a business-consulting and PR firm in Atlanta whose most notable achievement is to report – for the national Chamber of Commerce – its discovery that businesses that belong to their local Chamber of Commerce have better sales than businesses that don’t; female-run, it had started out in 1984 as a political-consulting firm. Well, since advanced-level ‘advocacy’ is indeed a business (not to say a racket) then you can see where that might have made some sense, from a marketing point of view. And ‘political’ is precisely the interest of advanced-level advocacy.

The firm’s ‘researchers’ had no prior experience in studying prostitution, nor for that matter in conducting serious research-studies that would be subject to academic peer-review and examination in accredited scientific research journals.

In terms of methodology, a “random” group of 100 adult observers (although also claimed to be “adjusted for race and gender”) looked at photos of potential sex-providers taken from their own advertisements on the internet classifieds and guessed whether the photo’s image was of a person under the age of 18. The immediate problem being that since these sites are marketing sites, there is no guarantee that an individual wishing to market her services is actually putting up a current photo, or instead a photo from a more photogenic and appealing prior age in her life. (And this assumes – somewhat generously – that the photo in the classified is actually the photo of the person who will be providing the services.)

Nor were the observers trained in the fine art of guessing age within so close a range (16, 18, 19, a young-looking 21) from photographs.

Now to quote the ‘scientific’ conclusion of the report: "The study showed that ‘any given 'young' looking girl who is selling sex has a 38 percent likelihood of being under age 18’, reads a crucial passage in the explanation of methodology. Put another way, for every 100 'young' looking girls selling sex, 38 are under 18 years of age. We would compute this by assigning a value of .38 to each of the 100 'young' girls we encounter, then summing the values together to achieve a reliable count."

The methodology simply took the guesses of the observers and treated them as factual discoveries; since 38 of the one hundred observers found what they guess are underage advertisers, then it concludes quickly that 38 percent of the advertisers on the internet classifieds are underage (round it off to 40 percent, what the hey?).

As the ‘Village Voice’ article puts it: “This is dense gibberish posing as statistical analysis”. Readers who have looked at any of the Victimology Posts on this site will not be surprised.

The ‘study’ then did a statewide survey, using six more ‘observers’, taking that 38 percent as an established fact.

As one professional researcher points out: it’s like asserting that if 38 out of 100 observers misidentified Fords as Chevrolets, then 38 percent of the Fords out on the streets are actually Chevrolets.

Which gives you a sense of what has been going on with so much of the ‘science’ underlying (and fueling and sustaining) the SO Mania. And really, given that so much of Postmodern agitprop is about ‘perception’ rather than actuality, then that doesn’t matter. In America of the past 40 years – and certainly in the SO Mania – if an individual wants to call a Ford a Chevrolet, well who’s to say s/he’s wrong? Why ‘oppress’ the person by trying to ‘impose’ your own ‘judgment’ and thereby interfere with the person’s ‘autonomy’ and also disrespect so insensitively what the person has chosen to believe? (And if that sounds a tad philosophical, then you can see how profoundly so much Correct usage is inherently and fundamentally lethal to an accurate perception of reality. And can you say ‘Iraq War’? And ‘economic Bubble’?)*  

Expanding their Georgia-study to other states (the head of one of the feminist-friendly foundations that paid for the Georgia study is also on the board of the Women’s Funding Network) it was quickly ‘discovered’ that underage female internet prostitution had increased 64 percent in Minnesota in a matter of months.

Nor did the ‘study’ bother to ascertain if the photos were of the same individual or different individuals. The ‘study’ only considers the number of images/photos on the site, not the number of separate individuals allegedly portrayed.

The PR firm’s boss, Beth Schapiro, blurbs that hers is “the first-ever study” on this problem, although – marvelously – her own footnotes reference several of the numerous prior studies done on the matter.

Her chief ‘researcher’, one Rusty Parker, can’t recall exactly how he structured the methodology for his ‘study’. Indeed, he’s not really sure where he got the photographs. You can’t make this stuff up.

Under questioning by the ‘Village Voice’ reporter, “neither Schapiro nor Parker had any answers when asked if there was any empirical reason to believe their two critical assumptions: that online photos always represent what the prostitutes actually look like, and that the six handpicked observers conducting the state studies have exactly the same error rate as the initial test batch of 100 random citizens”. Well, it’s refreshing to see somebody actually questioning these ‘researchers’; if a little more of that had been done back in the early days of Victimology’s** most amazing claims, perhaps much wrack and ruin would have been avoided. It’s also perhaps a sign of Schapiro’s presumption that when it comes to these types of ‘issues’, no politely Correct person would be so insensitive as to ask.

To some large extent, this is another example of ‘revolutionary science’ – which, like ‘revolutionary law’ is to be judged ONLY on whether and how much it furthers the cause of the ‘revolution’ and NOT on whether what is actually claiming (or imposing) is grounded in any actual facts.

But it is also an example of what has now become lethally and corrosively ‘normal’ in major areas of American culture, society, professional practice, media, and even the uppermost reaches of politics and law: you just ‘do whatever it takes’ to ‘generate pressure’ to get what you want. (In response to which American legislators at all levels have simply adopted ‘the politics of the deal’: you’re making enough noise and pressure for me to simply ask you what you want, and let’s make the best deal we can – I’ll get a law passed (and funding set aside) and you get your cadres and ‘victims’ to vote for me.)

Rusty also doesn’t remember if he actually determined the real ages of the persons in the photographs or even of the ones putting the photos up on the classified-ads sites. Why should he? This is a Good Thing he’s doing so why mess it up with facts and insensitive (and ‘abstract’ and ‘male’) questioning, which is all so rationalistic? I think by now the country can ask Rusty and all his ilk: ‘Good’ for whom?

Schapiro herself pulls off a marvelous bit of advocacy-doublespeak and doublethink: No, she admits, these are not “exact numbers” and shouldn’t be taken as such. But then, asked why she was allowing legislators and the public to be bombarded with such not-really-real numbers, she asserts that “Well, yes, these are specific numbers" … “And yes, they are hard numbers, and they are numbers that we stand completely behind."

“This is the type of cognitive whiplash you have to endure if you follow Schapiro down the rabbit-hole”, says the ‘Village Voice’ reporter.

And, in what is perhaps one of the clearest indications of just where truth, accuracy, reality, honesty, and rational thought stand in the priorities of advanced-level advocacy, when the reporter presses for an answer as to whether her numbers are “facts or estimates” she burbles “All of the above”. Which, in cadre-klatsches over reeely good chardonnay or chai, is no doubt All You Need To Know. “I would square the circle by saying that you can look at them both ways”, she cheeribly declaims. In other words, WHATEVVVVVVVERRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

Which – oy – is probably the way an awful lot of legislators and jurists think now too. No wonder that the world’s peoples and governments are beginning to wonder if Americans are really ‘serious’ any more. And no wonder that the Mania continues to spread its lethal whackulence like a cancer throughout the body politic, gobbling up the common-weal and even any common shared public cognitive and political maturity.

The ‘Village Voice’ reporter quotes one professional statistician who admits ruefully that “You see a lot of this nowadays” – meaning both the stunningly in-your-face irrationality and the tendency of media reporters to NOT read the studies that are claimed to ‘prove’ this or that.

The genius behind the approach is one Kaffie McCullough, who made the first approach to the Schapiro Group. Her operative insight is that “having scientific-sounding numbers makes all the difference in the world”. And again, she unwittingly puts her finger on the dark beating heart of so much current American dreck: there is (or should be) a significant difference between ‘scientific’ and ‘scientific-sounding’. Like non-military folks who snapped up the huge Hummers a decade ago so that they could have a ‘military-looking’ vehicle and imagine they too were doing their bit for the country against its enemies, there is a world of difference (and hurt) between being a soldier on the front lines of a badly (might we say ‘unscientifically’?) planned war and being a daydreaming wannabe imagining yourself to be General Patton as you tool to the local pub in your air-conditioned superduper Hummer.

One might also respectfully opine that legislators and jurists get a firmer grasp on the difference between ‘legitimate’ and ‘legitimate-sounding’ laws and court decisions. And that some enterprising reportorial souls actually make them answer questions.

The afore-mentioned Kaffie had gone to the Georgia Legislature in 2007 looking for funding to set up a regional center to follow-up on juvenile prostitution. Alas, she only got “about 20 percent of what we asked for” (in funding) because “we had no research, no nothing”. The solution, of course, was to order up some – ummmm – ‘research-sounding stuff’ forthwith.

The result? After an initial compilation (let’s not ask how) of numbers, “we got everything we asked for, plus we got a study commission”. What’s not to like? This is ‘strategizing’ and it’s all very much the rage.

Now she has hooked up with the Women’s Funding Network and plies her trade going all over the country assuring local chapters that “whatever money they spend will come back to them with hefty dividends”. Marvelous. Although I wonder if these folks are really still just partying like it’s 1999 (or 2006) in terms of looking for big bucks from the same Beltway that somehow decided that the appearance of a national economy was pretty much as good as an actual national economy.

She had stood by the Schapiro study – which is a mainstay of her presentations when she’s on the road. Apparently she had been assured that these were the same methods used to “measure endangered species”. (Among which, it must be piously hoped, the advanced-level advocate will soon be included, if you ask me.)

But in standing up for her creds as a sex-industry expert she asserts that yes, of course, the whole “industry” is “a bait-and-switch” (meaning you get a young nubile photo and then something else altogether at the front doorstep or at the bus station). And when then asked how she can credit the study’s rather loose methodology, she admits that there are some questions that might bear re-visiting. (But I’m gonna bet she’s not saying that to audiences and pols.)

The article concludes that “The basic truth is that the study exists in service of the advocacy, and if news outlets present the Schapiro Group's numbers as gospel, it certainly doesn't hurt the advocates' cause”. And, as Lenin said long ago, if it’s good for the cause, then it’s Good … and further questions will only lead to the wall or Siberia.

Reflecting on the whole process, Ms. Kaffie concludes with some advice she got from a state legislator once:  “If you all as a movement don't start having numbers, you are going to lose the money”, because “How can you justify millions of dollars when there are only hundreds of victims that you're actually serving?"

And that is a perfect capstone capsulization: you can’t get money if you don’t have victims, and lots of them. And if that means elastic definitions and shoddy (not to say phantasmagoric) science and lots of horror-stories that can’t be verified but make great media meat … well, you just have to ‘do whatever it takes’.

So, McCullough continues "We pitch it the way we think you're going to read it and pick up on it," says Kaffie McCullough, the director of Atlanta-based anti-prostitution group A Future Not a Past. "If we give it to you with all the words and the stuff that is actually accurate—I mean, I've tried to do that with our PR firm, and they say, 'They won't read that much.'"

And here McCullough lets the whole scam out of the bag: these ‘studies’ aren’t done to INFORM anybody; they are done to MOTIVATE (I would say STAMPEDE) the public. And it’s all done verrrry deliberately and with purpose-aforethought (I would say – frankly – malice aforethought). This is advanced-level advocacy in all its unlovely and unholy ‘strategizing’.

Worse, readers are not considered intelligent and careful; readers are considered as being too unreflective to actually make accuracy and truth and genuine explanation worthwhile.

In other words, they claim it’s all the public’s fault, not their own. They would, you are to infer, reeely reeely like to be honest and give you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – except that you aren’t really that careful or smart.

Which, conveniently, provides a great smokescreen for what is in effect their blatant dishonesty and irrationality. But then, this is an irrationality in the service of a very deliberate and rational plan: to stampede the public and lull Citizens into thinking there is an actual emergency (for which the advocacy will garner status, funding, and who knows what other secret bennies quietly granted through laws that are arranged through a ‘deal’ struck in a non-smoking smoke-filled room on Capitol Hill or in some State capital.

Once again, the job of the public is the job John Ford and just about every Western movie director assigned to the herds of cattle in the background on the ranch.

And of course they haven’t simply ‘left out’ the ‘complicated’ truthy parts; they have gone and whomped up a whole mess of garbage and junk science that only ‘sounds’ like it’s science. Which, in the advanced-level advocacy world is good enough for their purposes.
And - an added deniability factor - it's not the advocacy's fault; it's the PR firm (which the advocacy itself hired) that won't let the advocates tell the whole truth (or any part of it for that matter). Neat.

By now perhaps the country is ready to see just where this sort of thing has led Us.

My concern in regard to the SO Mania is that even as the government money runs out, pols will simply try to ‘double-down’ and make it through the next election by keeping as many ‘interests’ and ‘advocacies’ as happy as possible, no matter what the demand. Any thought of the common-weal or the integrity or even coherence of the laws and the justice system will be just a bunch more cans to be kicked down the road.

But that road is rapidly coming to an end like an unfinished superhighway that suddenly ends at the edge of a cliff or a dark wood with some big flimsy yellow-light flashing striped wooden barriers standing between your speeding car and the big-bang.

And as occurred to Lenin and his cronies in the 1920s, and to their successors in the 1980s: What do we do when the people find out what we’ve really done? “Whatcha gonna doo, whatcha gonna doo when they come for yoo, bad boys bad boys [and ladies]”, as the songster saith.


*Not to take things off on too great a tangent, let me note that the novelist and scientific essayist Walker Percy, in his 1987 book “The Thanatos Syndrome”, had already surmised that we live in a time of extensive and probably irreversible social decay (the decline of the family and of any human sense of grounded-ness, among other things), creating a lethally negative feedback loop in which the dynamics of disordered individual selves and of a disordered society reinforce each other. In such a situation, he sarcastically surmised, the most efficient American approach to things would be to drug as many people as possible so that they would ‘feel’ happy and not take their cues from what was actually happening all around them. Something along the lines of: if you can’t put out the fire, and can’t get people out, then give them a drug that will not let them feel the heat.

Of course, that strategy could only be ‘tactical’ and short-term, you’d have to say; before long the flames’ heat would have consequences whether you felt its pain or not. But that was precisely the lack of serious thinking and outright lunacy that Percy saw as starting to overtake the country. If you can’t reverse the social (and political) decay, eradicate the human ‘self’ that can notice the decay.

And while the history of suspecting ‘the government’ of carrying on all sorts of secret shenanigans and skullduggery is long and deep, fiction has not yet caught up with the Age of Identity and Advocacy Politics where the government induces huge amounts of ill-considered corrosive social upheaval right out in the open, insisting that it’s all ‘progress’ and only ‘reform’ and can only be thought of as Good.  Thus the SO Mania.

**If the essentially decent and worthwhile original insights of worldwide ‘victimology’ have now mutated – as I believe they have – into the handy rule of thumb that if a) somebody is unhappy then b) they must be a ‘victim’ and then c) there must then be a ‘perp’ and that d) both therapizing the victims and ferreting out the perps require lots of experts and programs and invasive and draconian laws … if all that, then somehow the combined advanced-advocacies in the Beltway have created the perfect self-licking ice cream cone, one even more comprehensive than the defense industry’s unsleeping quest for new enemies to fear. A monster like this will keep on going until the government money runs out (which in its early days, not so long ago, would have seemed inconceivable). The SO community, I would say, has been up against a monstrosity new to American political and cultural experience.

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