UND Researcher Peddles Campus Rape Junk Science


A couple of days ago I wrote about a study released by the University of North Dakota claiming that roughly a third of college males would sexually assault a woman if they thought they could get away with it.

But there were some problems. The sample size was tiny – just 72 participants – and the scenario those surveyed were asked to respond to is a fantasy. They were basically asked if they would commit a crime if they were assured of getting away with it.

I’m pretty sure that if you asked any sample of Americans of any demographic if they’d commit a crime – steal or murder or rape – we’d get a disturbing number answering in the affirmative.

Now one of the authors of the study is defending it to utterly credulous¬†Grand Forks Herald reporter Anna Burleson¬†(who thinks the study is totally “scary interesting”), and there are more problems.

Initially, because the study itself gives that impression, many people (including myself) reported that it was a survey of UND students. Turns out it wasn’t, and the study’s authors aren’t saying where the students were from because I guess it’s not important?

While the study initially received media attention from local channels and national blogs partially due to the incorrect statement that the men who had taken the survey were UND students, Edwards declined to specify which Midwestern university she and her team surveyed because it detracted from the fact that sexual assault is a nationwide issue.

“I think this is very representative of any college campus or most college campuses you go to,” she said.

So we’re asked to believe that this sample is representative of any college campus, but the study’s authors won’t give us any details? Like where this sample came from?

The institution where students were surveyed does matter. For one thing, it would be nice to be able to verify that the UND researchers actually surveyed people. I don’t want to accuse them of outright fraud, but it also wouldn’t be the first time academics manufactured data. For another, if we knew which institution the students were from, we could learn more about their demographics.

For instance, male students at North Dakota universities tend to be overwhelmingly white. But maybe this survey was done at an all-black college? Or a religious college? We don’t know. The authors of the study want us to believe their sample is “very representative” while telling us almost nothing about it.

And, again, this survey included just 72 participants, but its authors tell us this is “very representative of…most college campuses you go to.”

Would Pew or Gallup or some other polling company get away with drawing conclusions about people across America from a sample of just 72 people in one area?

Edwards also responds to criticism of the survey as a fantasy scenario – asking people if they would commit a crime if they could get away with it – and dismisses it out of hand:

She also said that while juxtapositioning this research alongside whether people would also be willing to commit other crimes if they knew they could get away with it would be interesting, that’s not the intent of her research.

Right. Because the intent of her research was to fit a certain narrative – men as dangerous rapists, campus rape as an epidemic – not find the truth.

Researching whether or not other demographics would commit crimes if guaranteed not to be caught would give these findings context. Is it just men who would rape if they could? Or is it all sorts of people who would commit crimes if they could?

Again, this sloppy and biased research tells us nothing.