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March 24, 2011 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Village Voice debunks influential study of online trafficking. Feministing has more.
posted by prefpara (37 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh my god. I had never read what their "methodology" was before. This is insane.

It seems like 90% of the people doing things For The Children are working evil, which really sucks. Children really are vulnerable and are often exploited in a variety of ways by adults. They really do need our protection. But lying about stuff like this doesn't help vulnerable children: it just creates a cloud of confusion, making it more difficult to find and help the kids that really need it.

Sigh.
posted by kavasa at 9:39 AM on March 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


Holy crap, that's pretty much the definition of junk science right there.
posted by rollbiz at 9:40 AM on March 24, 2011


Hey, working scientist here, this corporate bullshit is clearly not anything resembling genuine research but lets not call it junk science, instead lets simply call it what it is, bullshit.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:49 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


tldr version: To get the statistics, they had six people count how many photos on classified sites featured "young-looking" women, and multiplied that number by 38% (because in a completely different study with 100 random people and normal photos, 38% of photos marked "young-looking" were of minors).
posted by burnmp3s at 9:56 AM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


From a response to the article, from the head of the organization that did the "research":
Beginning in 2007 with a first-of-its-kind statewide tracking study of CSEC victims in Georgia, The Schapiro Group has a track record of developing innovative, common sense methodologies to better understand this hard-to-measure social phenomenon. In an area with no proven methodology, The Schapiro Group developed a series of logical assumptions upon which to base an admittedly conservative count of the number of young females being prostituted.
Are you fucking kidding me.
posted by rtha at 10:04 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh god they did data cooking for the Chamber of Commerce too? Talk about fruit of the poisoned tree.
posted by clarknova at 10:05 AM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wow.
posted by brundlefly at 10:13 AM on March 24, 2011


Blame the Internet. Let me explain:

1. The Internet forces the pace of 'news' reporting to the point where instant response is a vital requirement for the main stream media if it is to keep up with the Twitter/blogosphere time frame.

2. This instant response mode militates against the use of proper journalists, who used to do primary research, interviews etc before publishing stories based around research studies, press releases etc.

3. Mainstream media starts firing expensive journalists and uses cheaper, often freelance, reporters instead, whose brief is to scour the Internet and newswires and keep churning out, at a frantic pace, news that sells. Verification is not in the remit.

4. These cheaper, untrained personnel don't have the skills or time to fact check PR stories, bogus research etc, just top and tail releases and reproduce for mass consumption.

5. Bogus stories thus become 'validated' through this ineptitude and also because of the mass distribution effect of the Internet feeding off the mainstream media and reposting these stories across the globe in an instant. A bogus story can become 'fact' in 24 hours with the right headline.

6. Rinse, repeat.

It's brutal, it's sad and it's very dangerous in the long run, because into this kind of indifferent atmosphere you can drop any kind of propoganda engine you want, and it will bear fruit by generating money, attitudes and outrage as necessary.
posted by Duug at 10:20 AM on March 24, 2011 [14 favorites]


This is what I can find of actually published data,
along with this secondary and still questionable study.
This is also likely biased by what is attractive for journalists to report.

However, I would hate for people to get the impression that child sex trafficking is not a significant problem in the US. Because it really fucking is.

All links PDFs
posted by Blasdelb at 10:21 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


These studies seem to emphasize looking for young females.

I don't know for certain, but I suspect there are a lot more dudes looking for young escorts than looking for old wrinkly escorts
posted by YoMama at 10:35 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


IN HER OWN online photos, the woman who commissioned the Schapiro Group study looks to be in her 50s, with blue eyes, graying hair, and a taste for dangly earrings.

That's some 100-proof snark, right there.
posted by Gelatin at 10:49 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


In principle I agree, Duug. But there were plenty of traditional journos still around in the Afgan/Iraq war runups and all they used that methodology and cred for was to concoct the most fabulous lies.

Fuck 'em. If we're going to have propaganda I prefer it crass and cheap.
posted by clarknova at 10:50 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Basdelb, I'm going to read through those links, but one of the big problems we have with legislation aimed at targeting sex offences, even violent criminal ones, is the large number of organizations and individuals who blatantly lie and make stuff up in order to push through their agendas.

For every Marc Klaas or Women's Funding Network there is undoubtedly someone who's rigorous and truthful, but the problem is that these liars have gotten so much press, and so much repetition by various lawmakers and various other agencies, that it's impossible to believe anyone on the matter any more. So when I look at your link to Trafficking in Persons: The U.S. and International Response, my first reaction is to start to look through for the various places that bullshit made-up statistics have filtered through into this report, as they have into so many others that I've read.

So the answer here is to lay some serious damned smackdown on organizations that lie to us like this. Hard. If we can find an excuse to go after them for some major civil penalties, that would be a really really good thing. Because if you want to look at who's really hurting people, it's liars like this who draw attention and resources away from the places where people are really being extorted and coerced and injured.

So, yeah, let us not be distracted, and let's also make sure that those who keep bombarding us with distractions for their own sick or fiscal reasons get shot down hard enough that we can stop them from harming anyone else.
posted by straw at 10:59 AM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can any of the lawyers here comment on whether Craigslist might have a cause of action against this group? Lying under oath to influence legislation seems like the sort of thing that ought to be illegal but probably isn't, even when you admit you knew you were lying to reporters after the fact.
posted by enn at 11:07 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


And another thing while I'm ranting: there's always been pressure on journalists and publications to scoop the other guys. Sure the news cycle may have been compressed from days to hours, but research tools have improved to keep pace. This is still a blatant example of convenient fact-check failure that supported a popular narrative.


Lying under oath to influence legislation seems like the sort of thing that ought to be illegal but probably isn't...

It's called perjury, and it's very illegal. They should be going to prison.
posted by clarknova at 11:14 AM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Isn't most mass media just corporate "propaganda"?

For example on many so-called TV news shows, when there's a talking-head guest expert, the expert provided the questions to the anchor beforehand. They make it look like the anchor is doing journalism by asking 'tough' questions, but it's just softballs. Same with many so-called news stories in newspapers, the articles are ghostwritten by the subject of the article. This sort of astroturfing is everywhere, there's an entire industry for it, called "public relations".
posted by stbalbach at 11:14 AM on March 24, 2011


Lying under oath to influence legislation seems like the sort of thing that ought to be illegal but probably isn't...

It's called perjury, and it's very illegal. They should be going to prison.


She was quoting the numbers from the study though, so I'm not sure how that construed as directly lying even if the underlying study results are objectively false.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:30 AM on March 24, 2011


Nthing the boggled response. I've always felt like this kind of thing is why the general populace is skeptical of statistics in popular media. When you figure out that some of the statistics are just plain made up, it's hard to tell which statistics and studies are real under the mediaspeak.
posted by immlass at 11:32 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Blame the Internet. Let me explain:

You make good points, but I am going to still assign blame to the people who did the thing.
posted by JHarris at 11:39 AM on March 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


CL has yanked the adult section in Canada, too. We didn't even have to fund our own bullshit artists. Go, NAFTA!

Mainstream media starts firing expensive journalists and uses cheaper, often freelance, reporters instead, whose brief is to scour the Internet and newswires and keep churning out, at a frantic pace, news that sells.

And when someone tries to hire a journalist willing to spend the time doing research, the job ad goes viral:
We want to add some talent to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigative team. Every serious candidate should have a proven track record of conceiving, reporting and writing stellar investigative pieces that provoke change. However, our ideal candidate has also cursed out an editor, had spokespeople hang up on them in anger and threatened to resign at least once because some fool wanted to screw around with their perfect lede.

We do a mix of quick hit investigative work when events call for it and mini-projects that might run for a few days. But every year we like to put together a project way too ambitious for a paper our size because we dream that one day Walt Bogdanich will have to say: “I can’t believe the Sarasota Whatever-Tribune cost me my 20th Pulitzer.” As many of you already know, those kinds of projects can be hellish, soul-sucking, doubt-inducing affairs. But if you’re the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble… well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you’re our kind of sicko. ...
posted by maudlin at 11:42 AM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


There has been a similar problem in the UK regarding research into sex trafficking with shockingly poor methods and variable definitions. The worst recent example was the Big Brothel report in 2008, which had real academics angry enough to issue a strong condemnation of the value and ethics of the report. Of course the media picked up on and broadcast the findings of the original report more extensively, meaning that even though it is now (seemingly?) withdrawn, it lingers on as part of the public understanding of sex trafficking. Such "research" gets more play in the media because it presents the kind of facts and statistics that cautious academic work is often unwilling to provide, but adds nothing but a short term awareness of the issue. It may even do much long term damage.
posted by Jehan at 11:49 AM on March 24, 2011


"How do you know when the pictures were taken?" Finkelhor asks. "It's not illegal for an 18-year-old who's selling sex to put up a picture of herself from when she was 16."

Wait, then why all the manufactured moral panic/furor over teen sexting? Supposedly all those pix that teens took of themselves made them child pornographers, right?
posted by elizardbits at 11:53 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


"It's not illegal for an 18-year-old who's selling sex to put up a picture of herself from when she was 16."

Wait, then why all the manufactured moral panic/furor over teen sexting? Supposedly all those pix that teens took of themselves made them child pornographers, right?


If you were talking about a nude picture, you'd be right, but it's not clear that is the case here. A picture of a 16-year-old in a bikini is pretty much legal everywhere, and certainly can be used a couple of years down the road to sell sex.
posted by deadmessenger at 12:28 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


straw So the answer here is to lay some serious damned smackdown on organizations that lie to us like this. Hard. If we can find an excuse to go after them for some major civil penalties, that would be a really really good thing. Because if you want to look at who's really hurting people, it's liars like this who draw attention and resources away from the places where people are really being extorted and coerced and injured.

The Republican Party, who are the absolute epitome, the living avatars, of this phenomenon, will fight this to their last dying breath. Which is reason enough it itself to do it. Telling lies is wrong. It's one of the most wrong things you can do, because it causes other people to do wrong, based on the lies that you told, and there is no limit to how far the wrongdoing can spread.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:30 PM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


I predict that no changes will come from these revelations. False though it may be, the study "data" was used to place restrictions on sexual activity on part of the net, and no politician wants to be seen as pro-sex these days. So don't expect legislation to cancel that law.
posted by happyroach at 12:38 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


> 3. Mainstream media starts firing expensive journalists and uses cheaper, often freelance,
> reporters instead, whose brief is to scour the Internet and newswires and keep churning
> out, at a frantic pace, news that sells. Verification is not in the remit.

It's just too bad William Randolph Hearst is dead. He was born for these times.
posted by jfuller at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


My god, that methodology is just shocking. Wow.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:03 PM on March 24, 2011


"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.'"
BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT. You either hired a shitty, unethical, incompetent PR firm or you're fucking liars. I submit the results of studies all the damned time to medical editors/journalists/producers and I never, ever lie about what they say. There's no NEED to lie. You NEVER make false claims. NEVER draw inappropriate or inaccurate conclusions, and NEVER EVER, EVER lie about results to the media. That's PR 101, dammit. DON'T LIE TO THE PUBLIC!!!!! Especially with scientific or medical studies.

Medical journalists usually know how to interpret data. Non-medical journalists don't, and you have an ethical responsibility to not LIE to them and make sensational claims for ink!

Ugh!
posted by zarq at 1:04 PM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's just too bad William Randolph Hearst is dead. He was born for these times.

I think you may have that reversed - these time were born from him.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:05 PM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


stbalbach: " For example on many so-called TV news shows, when there's a talking-head guest expert, the expert provided the questions to the anchor beforehand. They make it look like the anchor is doing journalism by asking 'tough' questions, but it's just softballs. Same with many so-called news stories in newspapers, the articles are ghostwritten by the subject of the article. This sort of astroturfing is everywhere, there's an entire industry for it, called "public relations"."

I work for that industry. If you have questions, feel free to ask me.

In the meantime:

Articles that appear in most American magazines (and newspapers with circulations over 50,000) are generally not ghostwritten by experts. The concern for any publication is that they not appear biased. Readers are a lot more savvy than you might expect.

The problem is not ghost-writing. It's lazy journalism and an over-reliance on single-sourcing. If an article relies too heavily on press releases or a single source then the reporter didn't do their homework. PR agents are supposed to be sources of information and a liaison to experts. They're not supposed to do an editor's job for them. When you read articles, see how many expert opinions are being presented. If it's just one or two, then the reporter hasn't done their due diligence. See if the writer draws even-handed, balanced conclusions and discusses other perspectives and developments related to the topic which are not necessarily positive to the focus of their article. News reports should not be sales pitches to their readers.

Anyway, television news is not a monolithic industry. Anchors are usually paid to look good, not to be super-intelligent. Their producers typically do the heavy lifting. In news reports, yes, you have to look for softballs. During interviews, reporters should challenge their guests, not simply give them a platform from which they can pontificate. Is the anchor asking incisive questions, or leading ones ones that invite an expert to give a particular answer? But some of the most thorough vetting of guests I've ever seen is at The Today Show, which is not a "hard news" show. Producers are thorough in finding out whether an expert is in any way being compensated by the companies they're mentioning on the air. FoxNews is particularly good at setting up interviews so "opposing" guests look like their giving a balanced perspective: One guest will make a statement like, "Turnips are the worst thing that's ever happened to this country." The other guest, who has been billed as having an opposing view, will say, "Let's face facts: there's nothing good about turnips. Guest A is exaggerating, but he's not entirely wrong."

Astroturfing exists, yes. It's worse in some areas of PR than others -- political PR and Medical PR are very different industries -- and the industry has been trying to self-police on the topic for the last 10 years.

Some things to think about.
posted by zarq at 1:31 PM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


zarq: BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT. You either hired a shitty, unethical, incompetent PR firm or you're fucking liars. I submit the results of studies all the damned time to medical editors/journalists/producers and I never, ever lie about what they say. [...] DON'T LIE TO THE PUBLIC!!!!! Especially with scientific or medical studies.

(applause)
posted by JHarris at 2:20 PM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's another thing that pissed me off about that study before I found out the numbers were based on guessing: the reportage on it almost universally conflated underage prostitution with sex trafficking. It's like they assumed minors have no agency whatsoever.
posted by tehloki at 4:54 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the first link:
Schapiro's grasp on empirical rigor is such that when asked point-blank to choose between her two contradictory interpretations—estimates or facts—she opts for "all of the above."

"I would square the circle by saying that you can look at them both ways," she says.

Grade-A, Palin-esque tap-dancing bullsheeeeeeeeee-iiiiit.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:24 PM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


There are attempts to fight back (see e.g. http://churnalism.com), and JHarris you are of course correct, but I was trying to point out that the basic problem lies with the system. In the old days, no matter what they tried, it would be much much harder to get this kind of blatant garbage through the system. Nowadays it's accepted practice, and there's a good chance you'll win out if you try.

straw and zarq are also correct, it's lazy (unskilled?) journalism that makes matters worse and there really needs to be some official oversight, with legal teeth, put in place to stop it before it destroys the trust system completely.

I'm an eternal optimist, so I believe the pendulum will swing back eventually and measures will be put in place to deal with the problem properly, rather like peer review kind of saved scientific research back in the day (before that got all tangled up as well).
posted by Duug at 5:27 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Duug I know, I wasn't trying to put you down so much as just make sure that the awfulness of these people doesn't get diluted.
posted by JHarris at 5:32 PM on March 24, 2011


aeschenkarnos: Telling lies is wrong. It's one of the most wrong things you can do, because it causes other people to do wrong, based on the lies that you told, and there is no limit to how far the wrongdoing can spread.

Unfortunately, "the end justifies the means" seems to be the philosophy of a lot of people these days who wield power and influence (eg, The Family). Purity of intent as built-in absolution and blessing.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:47 PM on March 24, 2011


My favorite part: Imagine that 100 people were shown pictures of various automobiles and asked to identify the make, and that 38 percent of the time people misidentified Fords as Chevrolets. Using the Schapiro logic, this would mean that 38 percent of Fords on the street actually are Chevys."
posted by serazin at 1:04 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


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