Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Ugly Pageants

Right. Let's get this over with as quickly as possible; I have programming to do. Also, I want to demonstrate just how easy this really is to deal with, and so show just exactly how much research and statistical thinking Daniel Pipes would have needed to have powered through in order to discover that his hypothesis (namely: them Muslim wimmins is takin' all our tiaras o' sexy) is so woefully lacking in evidence that he absolutely deserves his current pillorying by the left.

Short version: not all that much, pal.

The percentage of Muslims in American society right now is 0.6%. The number of Muslim winners of the fourteen major American beauty pageants listed by Wikipedia in the last four years? Well, I have no idea, but Pipes is claiming two, so I'll assume it's no higher; presumably Pipes would bolster his argument if he could. Are two or more winners amongst fifty-six unusually high for such a small population size? Well, just. The chances of that happening entirely at random is 4.5%, which means that at the 5% level that people seem so keen on nowadays we would just about smell a rat. But wait! We only chose four years because Pipes' first example was taken from 2007. What about if we include 2006, too? Well, at that point, the chance jumps up to 6.7%, and we're statistically OK with it. By 2005, a year Pipes is happy to consider when it suits him, we're at 9.1%. Not the sort of odds you'd want going into battle, I grant you, but hardly beyond the realm of plausibility.

Working from the fairly reasonable assumption that if there was a Muslim American winner in 2006 or 2005 Pipes would have mentioned it - he certainly goes that far back for other examples - we can already conclude that he has taken what would not generally be considered a statistical aberration and implied there is something fishy going on.

But there's more! He adds to his own case two British winners and a French one. Our Muslim population? 2.8%. And from that he finds two winners in six years. For one of those he has to stoop so low as Miss Nottingham, one of the twenty or so heats for Miss England. That's twenty heats and the final, plus the various other major British pageants, over five years, and yet two Muslim winners strikes him as an issue (for the record, the chance of two or more winners from a 2.8% slice of the population in 21 x 6 = 131 pageants? 88%). I'm not even going into how stupid it is to argue that a single French winner somehow bolsters his case. I can't even find the Mlle Picardie competition online at all; Google just keeps returning people's complaints about the winner in question. One could note that it is a strange argument that relies on the French being keen to make calls in favour of its Muslim population, of course, but that would be to stoop to Pipes' gutter-scraping level.

So that's why he's wrong. Here's why he is so thoroughly deserving of the kicking he's getting: he sees five Muslim winners across, at a bare minimum, 222 different competitions (assuming Miss France is a bigger ticket than whatever "Mlle Picardie" is), and his brain tells him something weird is going on. His brain, not the evidence, suggests to him that something is amiss. That there is a question that needs answering. He doesn't bother actually answering it, of course - something that took me all of three paragraphs (though see below) - he just decides that his own innate sense of wrongness has picked up on something that needs to be addressed. He sees what he thinks - mercifully unburdened by the facts - are too many Muslim people getting somewhere, and he thinks this is an issue. In other words, as Brutal Snake pointed out to me this morning, Pipes' confirmation bias is coming into play, and the bias in question would appear to be that Muslims get all the breaks.

This is a fairly obvious sign that things are Not Right. And rather sit down and think through the issue at hand, something which would have saved him a great deal of entirely-warranted grief, he immediately brings up the possibility that these Muslim women didn't deserve to win (note that I'm entirely skirting around the issues surrounding beauty pageants themselves, that's another post someday). He argues that because he hasn't outright stated that they were unworthy he has done nothing wrong, but the fundamental point here, the beautiful Muslim elephant in the room, is that his brain didn't feel the need to sift through any evidence before it decided too many Muslims are winning, or to conclude that it might be because they are getting the racial sympathy vote.

We have words for people whose brains do that kind of thing. More importantly, we have words for people whose brains do that sort of thing who are happy for the process to appear in print, and who then argue their point to the death without actually putting more thought in. We have words too for people who argue that only outright accusations require evidence and suspicions can be bandied around as freely as one wants, and who claim to be asking reasonable questions but who then ignore the answers that disagree with the hypothesis they're pretending not to push.

For confirmation of the strange state of Pipes' brain, one need only look at what he believes has "borne out" his suspicions. Another winner, this time from a single university in North Carolina. How many pageants must there be across all the universities in all fifty states? And this is supposed to be Pipes' smoking gun? Why? He doesn't explain, of course, though his inclusion of the news report implies he finds something inherently problematic in the idea that a woman could win a beauty pageant with only her face and general body outline visible. This is not how a human mind is supposed to work, people. In fact, as far as I can tell, this is a guy claiming that he has proof that Muslims are getting unfairly preferential treatment because he's seen one woman win even though in his head it would be impossible to tell how hot she is. I've seen a lot of weird shit come out of people's keyboards in the last few years, but I think watching a man state that his inability to judge feminine beauty without checking out how a woman looks in a bikini is conclusive proof that his grotesquely racially insensitive theory is correct is a potential applicant to the Aggressive Bullshit Hall Of Fame.

Like I said, Pipes deserves the names. The fact that Pipes doesn't like those particular terms being thrown his way is a matter of supreme irrelevance.

Also, just for the record, I am aware that my own calculations are drastically over-simplifying the situation. For one thing, I'd be sympathetic to the suggestion that integration difficulties and cultural differences might make the percentage of Muslim beauty pageant entrants significantly smaller than their percentage of the general population would suggest. I lack the necessary data to factor that into the calculations, but you could certainly do it. You might get out a surprising and/or interesting answer, too, and you might find you need a new hypothesis to explain that result. Crucially, though, that would involve collecting data responsibly, running appropriate tests on it, and interpreting results. That's how these things are supposed to work. Pipes doesn't want to do the first properly, and wants to skip the second entirely. That's how you know he's full of shit.

(Also, I have to admit feeling a little uncomfortable about the fact that around 95% of the sites I checked out over this story include pictures of Rima Fakih in her underwear. It just feels weird to be discussing the racial issues that have spun out from her victory whilst posting up pictures of her scantily-clad form, very attractive though it is. Of course, I can't complain too much; I didn't choose that picture of Jessica yesterday for my True Blood post because I thought it encapsulated my problems with the second season. One of these days this redhead addiction is going to get me into serious trouble...)

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