Sunday, January 07, 2007

Damned Statistics

By Keith Ng - Listener December 2 2006

North & South writer Deborah Coddington’s claims of an Asian crime wave don’t stack up.
Here’s a disturbing fact,” wrote Deborah Coddington in her newspaper column, “in 2003 four of every five pregnant Asian women aborted their babies.” The implication was that we Asians, with our alien culture and inscrutable ways, have scant regard for human life, even that of our own offspring.
The week before that, she wrote in North & South that the “Asian menace has been steadily creeping up on us”, in the form of a “gathering crime tide” that Asians brought to these shores.
Coddington described herself as one who “dares point out that, contrary to what the PC brigade pretend, not every Asian is a good Asian”. Media commentator Deborah Hill Cone called her “courageous”.
I can appreciate the spirit with which Coddington is railing against supposedly uncritical reporting on Asian migrants. However, she is wrong to believe that she is under attack because Asians don’t like to be criticised or because the “PC brigade” won’t allow criticism of Asians.
For the record, it’s okay to investigate crime committed by Asians, it’s okay to investigate rates of abortions among Asian women. Asian New Zealanders face problems like everyone else, and we rely on journalists to bring these problems into the light so they can be addressed. No “PC brigade” will stand in the way of Coddington or any other journalist doing his or her job.
For her claim that four in five Asian pregnancies are terminated, she used data from a Statistics New Zealand report: “ … Asian women had the highest crude abortion ratio.” She left out the first half of that sentence: “Among women aged under 20 years … ”
Coddington took the abortion rate for pregnant teens – 824 abortions per 1000 known pregnancies – and wrongly presented it as the abortion rate of all Asian women. Applying her methodology, one would conclude that “in 2003 one out of two pregnant Pakeha women aborted their babies” – a patently absurd claim.
While Asian teens are more likely to seek an abortion when they become pregnant, they are less likely to get pregnant in the first place. When this is taken into account, their abortion rates are actually below the average for teenagers. In short, Coddington is presenting low teenage pregnancy figures as evidence that Asian women generally take a “casual approach” to contraception. Although abortion rates are higher among Asian women, Coddington’s misrepresentation grossly exaggerated the difference.
For her North & South article, Coddington looked wistfully at 2001, when Asians were 6.6% of the population but were only responsible for 1.7% of crime. Between 1996 and 2005, she is shocked to discover, Asian crime had risen by 53%. This was surely proof that the tide of Asian crime is gathering?
Fact 1: The number of offences attributed to Asians in 2001 was 3182. In 2005? 3182. Over that more recent period, the difference between the good old days and the latest figure is precisely zero.
Fact 2: Between 1996 and 2005, the proportion of Asians in New Zealand rose from 3.8% of the population to 9.3%. Asian representation in crime statistics rose much more slowly than the Asian population.
Asians went from being under-represented in crime statistics by a factor of 2 to 1 to being under-represented by a factor of 3.7 to 1. Roughly speaking, this means that an Asian New Zealander is about a quarter as likely as the average person to be a criminal.
This decrease in Asian representation in crime statistics is Coddington’s “gathering crime tide”.
Coddington interviewed senior politicians from both Labour and National. Both said they had not seen evidence that an Asian crime wave exists. Both were dismissed as “ignorant”. She contacted three prominent members of the Asian migrant communities. None of the interviews made it into the article.
Senior politicians, community members and police crime figures were in agreement – there is no Asian crime wave. Coddington refused to acknowledge the evidence. She omitted or glibly dismissed contrary voices. The figures show the very opposite of what she contended.
For pursuing a sensational claim at the expense of any regard for balance, fairness or accuracy, Deborah Coddington and North & South owe their readers and the Asian communities an unreserved apology.

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