Jacquelyn C. Campbell, a professor in the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, is accused of fabricating “key statements [about domestic violence] and then representing the statements as findings of a government survey.” On January 14, the victim-advocacy organization Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) filed a formal complaint with the Office of Research Integrity of the Department of Health and Human Services. SAVE wants the unit to “investigate these allegations of research misconduct by Dr. Campbell and colleagues, and take appropriate corrective action.” (As of January 31, the complaint has been rejected and the rejection is being appealed.)
In two highly respected journals, Campbell and various colleagues claimed that “the leading cause of death in the United States among African American women aged 15 to 45 years” was homicide. In the American Journal of Public Health Vol. 93, No. 7, 2003, page 1089, the deaths were described as “femicide, the homicide of women.” In the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Journal 2003, page 18, the deaths were ascribed to “intimate partner violence” or domestic violence homicide.
Attorney General Eric Holder repeated the domestic violence version of the statistic in a 2009 speech; he stated, “Disturbingly, intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45.” The statistic was posted in at least two places at the Department of Justice (DOJ) website. The conservative feminist Christina Hoff Sommers took exception. In USA Today (Feb. 4, 2011), she wrote, “That's a horrifying statistic, and it would be a shocking reflection of the black family, and American society generally, if it were true. But it isn't true.”
Over two years later, the Washington Post fact checker, Glenn Kessler investigated Holder's statement and published his results. Kessler wrote that CDC “data show that, for the year 2008 (the year before Holder’s speeches), cancer, heart disease, unintentional injury and HIV/AIDS all topped homicide. Then if you break out intimate-partner homicide, that ends up being seventh or eighth on the list (depending on whether you also include all homicides.)” As a basis of comparison, in 2008, cancer killed 1,871 black females; heart disease, 1,629; all homicides, 326.
Kessler next ran a forensic investigation of the claim. “As best we [Washington Post] and the Justice Department can determine,” he stated, “this all started with a 1998 study by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), titled “Violence Against Intimates,” that examined the data concerning crimes committed by current and former spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends.” But that study did not find domestic-violence homicide to be the leading cause of death in black women aged 15 to 45 years. Indeed, the study even reported a marked decline in such homicides. “From 1976 to 1996, the number of murders of black spouses, ex-spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends decreased from 14 per 100,000 black age 20-44 to just under 4 per 100,000.” Meanwhile, the general murder rate declined only an average of six percent a year.
Where did Holder get such a dramatically inaccurate statistic? Kessler fast forwarded to the 2003 studies in which Campbell was the principal researcher. The American Journal of Public Health study was published earliest, and it referred to “femicide” as the leading cause of death for African-American women aged 15 to 45. The later NIJ study stated “intimate partner violence” was “the leading cause of death.” The 1998 BJS study was cited as a source in both cases but, as Kessler commented, “these facts cannot be found in the original BJS report.”
Campbell did not respond to his request for clarification.
Since 2003, the inexplicable and unexplained statistic has assumed a life of its own. The University of Minnesota’s Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American community Community reiterates it the claim on its website, citing the NIJ study as its source. Other journals, newspapers, and at least one book also use the statistic. According to Google, the American Journal of Public Health study has been referenced online 567 times as of January 13.
Kessler's Washington Post article was published on December 18, 2013. He noted that DOJ officials had assured him “that in coming days they planned to append a note to the Web pages in question making clear that the claim is not valid.” The outrageous inaccuracy remains in the text of material on DOJ site, as it has for over four years. On January 17, changes were made, however. The following statement appears at the bottom of the page:
“These remarks, as originally delivered in 2009, cited a statistic naming intimate partner homicide as the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45. This statistic was drawn from a range of reputable sources, including a 2003 study by the National Institute of Justice. However, recent figures indicate other causes of death—including cancer and heart disease—outrank intimate partner homicide for this age group.”
This “clarification” vindicates the statistic as being from reliable sources and implies that it was once correct.
Killing a False 'Fact' Can Be Almost Impossible
Mark Perry is not surprised at the DOJ's failure to make a genuine correction. Perry is an economics professor at the Flint campus of the University of Michigan and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The Washington Post fact checking occurred only because Perry pursued that avenue as a last resort. In an AEI article (Dec. 5, 2013), Perry stated that the false data was “being extensively quoted by universities, journalists, in books and YouTube videos, and by the American Bar Association.” Perry called the DOJ failure especially disturbing in light of Obama's 2009 declaration, “Under my administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over... To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy.”
Christina Hoff Sommers is also unsurprised. For years, Sommers has been battling bad data produced by politically correct feminism. She is perhaps best known for constantly correcting statistics which exclude men and boys or inaccurately represent them.