Why are you reading me when you could be reading Mike Flynn?

Why are you reading me when you could be reading Mike Flynn? February 14, 2012

Ye Olde Statistician lays waste to the lies of our Tyrant King and his l’il helpers in the Culture of Death:

Obama-rama-bo-bama, Banana-fana fo-fama.
Fee, fie, fo, fum. Something smells. But what cannot be done by the People’s Representatives openly in Congress Assembled must be imposed stealthily by autocratic orders from the Besserwissers. Yes, I speak of the recent central government command to employers to supply contraceptives for their female employees. (Though not condoms for their boyfriends. Go figure.)

This power grab was evidently made not so much to control the birth of untermenschen as to assert the Executive’s authority to order private citizens to buy Stuff the Executive thinks is Really Kool. (cf. Obamacare wrt buying insurance). It has nothing to do with whether contraceptives are a good idea; nor with whether they are legal, nor with whether lots of people want them. It does have to do with the Omnicompetent State instructing a religious body as to which of its activities are “truly” religious and which are not. That is explicitly forbidden by the First Amendment to do so. As Jefferson said, “To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

But this president said, long before his election, that the Constitution was an “obstacle” to doing the right thing and has on more than one occasion expressed the wistful desire to rule by decree – though quickly backing off after doing so. And after worrisome applause by his audience. The appeal of fascism did not die with the 1920s and 30s.
a general lowering of moral standards throughout society;Now, the old encyclical Humanae Vitae warned of four trends that would result from freely available contraception. These can easily be seen as raving delusions of a “slippery slope.” He predicted:

  • a rise in infidelity;
  • a lessening of respect for women by men; and
  • the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.

As you can see, none of these… Er, um…

(Don’t laugh. What if the One Ring falls into the Wrong Hands; that is, if the Other Party wins an election and inherits the power now being arrogated?)
OK, well, but good idea or not, nonetheless it’s legal. Well, it’s legal to buy pork chops; but should the government compel Jewish organizations to serve them in the cafeteria because of the protein value of America’s Other White Meat™? Gun ownership is legal, but should the government compel Quaker meetings to provide a free ammo employee plan or pay for their membership in shooting clubs because a well-regulated militia is necessary for a free republic? Would it matter if lots of Jews have eaten pork or even that some Quakers have gun licenses?

But how dare the Church bar contraceptives for non-communicants?
BTW, the parallel with digestive rights is instructive. Both are the result of a collision between the desire to indulge an appetite (sexual or gustatory) without getting fat. The notion that one ought to be able to eat whatever one likes without gaining weight is generally perceived as a failure of the intellect and no one supposes that the government ought to mandate health insurance coverage to include emetics, so as to enable bulemia.Well, of course, she doesn’t. She merely says that she will not pay for them. That a citizen has the right to purchase contraceptives does not entail the right to send someone else the bill. Membership in a health club would also be “good” for health, but that does not impose on you the obligation to pay for my membership. “Reproductive rights” are no more impaired by such a refusal than “digestive rights” would be if others failed to pay your Weight Watchers dues for you.

But TOF (I hear you say), what has all this to do with that wondrous subject, “Statistics,” on which we started? TOF is glad you asked.

98% of Catholic Women

Sample conclusions apply only to that population whose members had a random chance to enter the sample.

A basic rule of statistical inference is that the conclusions of a sample apply only to the population from which the sample came. If the Literary Digest sampled only telephone owners, a legitimate conclusion cannot be drawn about all voters, only those who have telephones. If a survey covered only left-handed Iowans, no conclusion can be drawn about right-handed Michiganders. Get the picture?

Now, one meme that has been repeated in the current foo-foo is that “98% of Catholic women use contraceptives.” How this obligates the Catholic church to pay for them is unknown, since Church dogma is not determined by popular vote, but by either revelation or (as in this case) natural reason. Since the Church has been described as “a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints,” we would expect that there are many at least nominal members who do not adhere to the moral law. I know I haven’t. I bet 98% have pilfered office supplies from their place of work, too; but that does not suggest the government should mandate the underwriting of kleptomania.

However, the 98% figure is bogus. It comes from Figure 3 in a Guttmacher Institute study of the kinds of contraceptives women choose. Now, the mission of the Guttmacher Institute is to propagandize the use of contraceptives, and their studies should be viewed in that light. However, this particular study, though statistically primitive, does not itself make the claim attributed to it by the statistically illiterate.

The 98% seems suspicious. What of the elderly? What about nuns? What about the proverbially fertile Catholic mother? Do they comprise only 2% of the Church?

Remember what we said that the results of sample S can only be projected onto the population P from which it was randomly selected? Ignore for a moment the issues related to methodology, randomness, etc. What was their population?

We discover that the study was restricted to “women at risk for unintended pregnancy.” [emph. added]. They defined this group as those:

  • aged 15-44
  • who were “sexually active” in the three months prior to the survey
  • but were not pregnant, postpartum or trying to get pregnant


So the study tells us only that 98% of women of child-bearing age who want to have sex without having babies use some form of birth control. That qualifies as a sort of “d’uh” moment.IOW, it excluded any woman participating in the Darwinian effort to colonize the future. Excluded are Catholic women who are married, trying to have a baby (or at least open to the possibility), nuns and other virgins, and any woman older than 44 years or younger than 15. This may actually exclude a fair number of “Catholic women” from the population.

(Remember, Guttmacher focused on this group because their interest was centered on which form of birth control different groups used. It was not they who made the unwarranted inference to “all Catholic women.”)


BTW, you will notice the criteria also excludes anyone sexually active in the preceding three months, using contraception, but who became pregnant anyway. That would be an interesting number.


Now what about those “Catholic women.” Figure 1 in the Guttmacher report provides a breakdown of religious participation. We find that only 30% of the “Catholic women” in their study reported attending church weekly, versus 11% who said “never” and 29% who said less than monthly. IOW, 40% of those claiming to be Catholic are either Easter Bunnies or never attend Mass. It’s unclear how “Catholic” such women really are. But it certainly seems as if they are less likely to have been touched by catechesis.

But what about the Public Interest in controlling the birth of untermenschen? The poor are having Way Too Many of Them versus Not Enough of Us. I mean, dude, Darwin himself worried about this.

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man itself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

— Charles Darwin,
The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (2nd ed., 1882) pp. 133-134.

So we don’t want those worst animals breeding, now do we?

But a funny thing happened on the way to the birth rate. In the US, the birth rate has been declining steadily, a sine wave on a decaying exponential trend, since at least 1820. You remember, do you not, that that was the year when President Monroe instituted a government program supplying cheap contraceptives to the poor frontiersmen and slum dwellers.

US Birth Rates, showing effectiveness of Govt Contraceptive program instituted in 1820 by President Monroe. “Replacement level” is at 21 per 1000 people. Thank goodness for immigration.

Oh, wait. There was no such program. Yet the birth rates did come down. Very strange. How could people do things without being told by the government, financed by taxes, and led by the vanguard of the besserwissers? TOF must plumb this mystery; but he has already overstayed your patience, and will leave that for another day. But today’s takeaway is this: Why do some people suppose that people today need to be managed by the government, when their grgrgrandparents did not?

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  • Disgusted in DC

    The 98 percent statistic is presumptively accurate because it is based on a data set from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics in 2006-08. Ye Old Statistician gives no compelling reason to challenge the quality of the data set used.

    The Obama Administration is wrong when it claims that the 98 percent statistic has some bearing on the morality of contraception or the legal/constitutional question presented. Thus, challenging the 98 percent statistic is a waste of time and is likely to result in more harm than good to The Cause.

    • Roberto

      I don’t get it: Just because some big organization did it, we should conclude that it is accurate? Dream on.
      Also, what does that have to do with YOS point about sampling from the correct population? Or are you saying that the population used in that study is not what YOS describes? If so, what was it?
      I think that YOS gave lots of compelling reasons for doubting the conclusions. But I am not clear on what reasons you are offering.
      BTW, I am a statistician too…

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Check it out yourself.
      They harvested from the NSFG precisely those women who were best suited to their purpose. They were not even trying to “Estimate the percentage of Catholic women who use birth control” and made no such claim. It is the statistically-challenged who have done so in the wake of the Government stomping all over Amendment I.
      Because yrs. trly. is by profession a statistician, my interest often falls upon the misuses and abuse of my beloved profession. Other issues may, indeed often will, come into play; but is it too much to ask that statistics not be misrepresented?

  • Dan F.

    Brilliant, just brilliant.

  • I made the comparison to a device that contracepts digestion back in May: http://www.almostnotcatholic.com/2011/05/eat-anything-you-want-with-no-side.html?m=1

  • dbp

    I just looked at the report. How amazingly brain-dead that 98% number is!

    The report says that “Among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same, 98%, among sexually experienced Catholic women.”

    Riiight, but what are those ‘other’ methods? “No method” is one of the options, weighing in at 11% of Catholics (see page 6). So at the very least, you can’t justify ANY conclusion suggesting more than 87% of Catholics (and note TOF’s point that only 30% of respondents were weekly Mass-goers.

    Then there’s the additional 15% of Catholics that use “Other,” which would presumably include the rhythm method (the report does not suggest that ‘Other’ is ‘highly effective’, as it says that only 72% of Catholics use ‘highly effective’ methods). So I’m guessing that the number is much closer to that 72% number than anything, or almost 30% NOT using the Pill or other such methods. (Quick, someone remind me– what was that number for weekly Mass attendance again?)

    Argh, I’ve just got myself ticked off. I’m saving this report somewhere for future reference. It doesn’t at all support the conclusions anyone is trying to apply to the Catholic Church.

    • dbp

      Whoops, shot off too early. Looks like ‘other’ was 4%. The 15% was the number for condoms (not listed as ‘highly effective’, which apparently refers to hormonals, IUDs, and sterilization. So, ‘Other,’ ‘NFP,’ and ‘No Method’ come to 17%, not 28%.

      So, not quite as encouraging as I thought. Still, there’s a lot of ‘have ever used’ language in there. I’d bet there are lots of people who fall into that category but don’t contracept now, just as the number of people who ‘have ever’ smoked marijuana is probably a lot bigger than those that do currently.

    • Roberto

      Regardless, I can claim, with good evidence, that 100% of faithful, Mass going Catholics have sinned repeatedly in the last month. Does that make sinning justified or, more to the point, something to support financially?

      • dbp

        Your point is a good one, but I think the numbers ARE important. It’s not just a lie, it’s a scandalous lie because, like it or not, there are some who will think, “If 98% of other Catholics cannot follow this teaching, how can I?”

        It doesn’t make a difference to this debate, but I think it does make a difference. It is demoralizing to Catholics, and purposely so.

        • Roberto

          Good point. I agree on that one.

  • Joannie

    This is just my two cents worth but I had head Fr. Joe Fessio say last year to Fr. Benedict that “more and more Catholic couples are having large families” and I believe that he knows what he is talking about. I say this because of the recent increase in both priests and religious nuns and brothers at least in this country. Also I saw a couple of years ago another poll on this issue and it claimed at least 50% do not follow the Church teaching while the other half does. This seems more reasonable and it be because more people know how dangerous some contraception can be. They are waking up to the wisdom of the late Great Pope Paul the Prophet who predicted all of this back in 1968.

  • Brilliant or not it’s too long, too complex, too facetious, a little too clever, maybe a bit too self-indulgent.

    Make one or two points, and make them stick like darts in a bull. Keep it short enough to read and absorb in not more than two minutes. Less, if possible.

    • Actually, I’d like to make the same complaint about the length of the quote.

      Mark, leave a little bit more of surprise. I mean, you do want people to visit Mike Flynn’s site dontcha?

    • Roberto

      Are you hoping for a royal road to explaining math? Just kidding: I know what you mean, but I think that some topics need a long explanation or they will be easily misunderstood.
      So, go for short and debatable/misunderstood or go for long and ignored? Good question!

    • Linebyline

      I think Brevity is a gift. (I think I ended up getting a card with money in it instead.) But it’s not the right tool for all occasions. After all, you wouldn’t want the Bible–or even any given book thereof–to be limited to two points and readable in under 120 seconds, would you?

      The problem with (many) lengthy works is that they can bore the reader into not absorbing everything. I think Flynn’s style is readable enough to avoid that pitfall, at least at this length, and I think the topic demands discussion in the level of detail presented here.

      I also think I worry too much about what I think, but let’s let that pass for now…

  • Linebyline

    Well, Mark, for one thing, I’m not reading you. I’m reading your blog. Reading you would just be creepy.

    I’m also still wrapping my head around the fact that TOF is YOS.

    By the way, I have only had one class on statistics and one more on social science. One of the first things they teach you is the importance of representative samples and the problems with generalizing results to a population not represented by your samples. You simply can’t be good enough at statistics to do it for a living and make this mistake. (Which is probably why, as YOS/TOF/Mike points out, the Guttmacher folks didn’t make that mistake: They were explicitly studying a different population than “all Catholic women.”)

  • “US Birth Rates, showing effectiveness of Govt Contraceptive program instituted in 1820 by President Monroe.”

    I just about died laughing upon reading this.

    • Noah D

      As a history student (hopefully soon to be a history teacher), I did about the same, though there was a ‘WT*?’ in there near the beginning.

    • Elaine S.

      He must have snuck that program through at the exact same time as another infamous federal government “compromise” on a critical moral issue of the day: