Monday, November 8, 2010

Speaking of Jack Shafer and Bogus Trend Stories

Slate's Jack Shafer is letting his readers write the "bogus trend stories" this week: Interesting paragraph as he describes what makes a BTS:

"My partners in bogus trend-spotting have been Slate readers, who quickly picked up on how to identify them. Hardly a day goes by now that a reader doesn't e-mail me a bogus trend story discovery, often delineating the piece's essential bogosity in a couple of paragraphs in his correspondence. One marker of a bogus trend story is an abundance of such weasel words as some, few, often, seems, likely, and more, all of which allow a writer to simultaneously state a strong assertion and couch it. Another is an article with no data, just a string of anecdotes to support his thesis of a new or growing trend. The reliable marker of bogosity is a dodgy phrase like 'reliable numbers are hard to come by' in a news story."

Emphasis added. But with that emphasis added, let's return to Slate's story today about immigrant women faking domestic abuse to earn residency in the United States:

"But the law has a potential flaw, too: A small fraction of the time, it may also provide incentive for immigrant husbands and wives to fake domestic abuse."


No one knows how widespread the fraud might be, though it's probably a small portion of all the spouses who apply for immigration relief saying they've been abused. In 2009, 8,534 people tried to gain permanent residency through VAWA's abuse provision, and 73 percent succeeded. Government databases don't track how many of the 2,000 or so denials were turned down on suspicions of fraud, as opposed to another reason such as lack of evidence.

Slate's fake domestic abuse story, in other words, has all the hallmarks of a BTS. I'm nominating it to Shafer. Will he run it?

No comments: