In ringing prose, President Barack Obama underscored his March 9, 2009, memorandum on scientific integrity with this promise: “Under my administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over….To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy.”
As luck would have it, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement a few months later designed to spotlight the issue of domestic violence. In Holder’s own words, “Disturbingly, intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45.”
Turns out this statement is not one-sided or misleading. It’s flat-out wrong.
Go to the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. There you can fire up the WISQARS (“whiskers”) search engine to glean the leading causes of death for any age group, race, sex, geographical region, or year:
So I entered the data to match Holder’s proclamation — African-American women in the 15-45 year age range. In 2007, the women’s leading causes of death were:
2. Heart disease
3. Accidents (unintentional injuries)
Thinking something must be wrong, I fiddled with different years — same result. Domestic violence homicides didn’t make the list.
This factual boo-boo came to light in a February 4 USA Today column by Christina Hoff Sommers. Calling on Holder to remove the misstatement “immediately,” the essay enumerated the harms wrought by such wrongful assertions.
“Misinformation leads to misdirected policies that fail to target the true causes of violence,” Dr. Sommers declared. “Worse, those who promulgate false statistics about domestic violence, however well-meaning, promote prejudice. Most of the exaggerated claims implicate the average male in a social atrocity.”
What’s more, these claims are exploited by dictatorial regimes to buttress antiquated human rights policies. “In Europe almost 70% of housewives are beaten by their husbands,” Iranian President Ahmadinejad once asserted, absurdly.
Columnist Paul Elam highlighted another cause for worry: “The danger here, of course, is that by telling African American women that the leading cause of their death is IPV [intimate partner violence], we are minimizing and helping them ignore the things that really are killing them.”
Eric H. Holder was sworn in as the 82nd attorney general of the United States on February 3, 2009. Four months later, I happened to attend a speech by the newly confirmed law enforcement head. Still basking in the afterglow of his controversial confirmation, Mr. Holder spoke condescendingly about how the Bush administration’s Department of Justice had been reflexively smitten by a narrow ideology.
And under his leadership, Holder pledged to the crowd, the faded luster of the DoJ would soon be restored. That was two years ago.
I cannot fault Mr. Holder for his factual hiccup. After all, public officials make statements every day, and they can’t be expected to fact-check each jot and tittle of every speech. And I am not going to suggest that Mr. Holder was intentionally thumbing his nose at President Obama’s Presidential Memorandum on scientific integrity.
But now the truth of the matter has come to light and the harm caused by this intellectual flim-flam cataloged. Mr. Holder needs to assure the claims and policies of his department are rooted in scientifically verifiable fact, not ideologically driven cant.
Act now, Mr. Holder, to protect the integrity, the professionalism, and the good name of the Department of Justice.