Diary

Lies, damned lies, and statistics: Have they no editors at The New York Times?

There it was, tucked away, in the (figurative) corner of an opinion article about the travails of homosexual men living with HIV:

I am constantly being thanked, even by people in the street stopping me, for what I have done to save my people. Such thanks make me uncomfortable. I don’t think I have done anything that any gay person could not also have done. Throughout the worst of these plague years we had at the most only several thousand of us fighting all over the country. Out of some 20 million or so of us.

“Out of some 20 million or so of us.” A casual statistic, with no supporting documentation, no hyperlinks, no anything to support it, just a simple, declarative statement. The author, Larry Kramer, is described under his byline as “a writer and activist, (and) a founder of both Gay Men’s Health Crisis and Act Up. Volume Two of his “The American People” is forthcoming.” How authoritative!¹

As we have noted previously, the Centers for Disease Control conducted the National Health Institute Survey in 2013, seeking to address the significantly different health outcomes in homosexual and bisexual populations. Part of that was identifying just how many people are homosexual or bisexual:

Based on the 2013 NHIS data, 96.6% of adults identified as straight, 1.6% identified as gay or lesbian, and 0.7% identified as bisexual. The remaining 1.1% of adults identified as “something else,” stated “I don’t know the answer,” or refused to provide an answer.

According to Census Bureau estimates, the population of the United States in July 1, 2018, was 329,256,465.

But wait: the figure of 329.3 million is our total population. According to childstats.gov, there are an estimated 73.8 children and teens under 18 million in 2018. That leaves with an adult population of 255.5 million. Since the NHIS sampled only adults, we shall use 255.5 million as our calculation baseline.

Multiplying 255.5 million by .016 (1.6%) yields 4.1 million homosexuals. Including the 0.7% who identify as bisexual, 1.8 million, we have a total estimated homosexual and bisexual population of 5.9 million adults. That’s a pretty far cry from the 20 million statistic given by Mr Kramer.

There are, of course, other estimates. The Williams Institute noted a 2002 study in which 4.1% of the population self-identified as “gay, lesbian or bisexual.”² Even if we use the more charitable figure of 4.1%, we come up with a homosexual/bisexual population of 10.5 million adults, just a shade over half of the 20 million that Mr Kramer claimed.

This is how we get experience media bias, this is how we find #FakeNews. Someone with a reason to pad the statistics, Mr Kramer in this instance, makes a wholly unsupported statistical claim, that there are “some 20 million or so” homosexual adults in the United States, pretty soon it will be cited as “according to The New York Times, there are approximately 20 million gays or lesbians in America,” and Bam! the statistic is established.

I expect people like Mr Kramer, who have an axe to grind, who have a personal interest in having the number of homosexual people to be inflated to make such a claim, but I also expect that a (purportedly) straight³ news source like The New York Times to have editors who will not allow such unsourced claims to be printed in their newspaper.

Then again, I would have expected the Times to dismiss a reporter who slept with her confidential sources, but that didn’t happen either.
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Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.
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¹ – Mr Kramer references the statistic again, with “Why have relatively few of us — out of so many millions — been willing to fight for their lives?” and “I still can’t see enough of us, in all our numbers and our splendor and our magnificence.” He has clearly attempted to both inflate the number of homosexual persons in the United States, and use those inflated numbers to hammer home a point.
² – GLAAD, formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a homosexual advocacy group, came up with a survey which claimed that 20% of millennials were homosexual, and only 88% of them were ‘cisgender,’ or identified as the sex they were born. Their numbers are so far out of the realm of possibility that I am surprised that they’d even publish them, because they can only lead to ridicule.
³ – Pun most definitely intended.