Monday, July 05, 2010

Jamaican papers are at it again – homophobia in 'reporting' action

Having just redeemed themselves in the eyes of regular readers with pretty sharp reporting about the Dudus' affair, Jamaica's journalism is back to its usual quality-wise lows.

Two of Jamaica's papers, the Observer and the Gleaner have a long and distinguished history of anti-gay agitprop. The Gleaner frequently does it under the guise of pseudo-openness perpetuated by one of its columnists. He's a quite eloquent chap who likes to gives his musings an air of scientific soundness when really he picks and chooses biased academic content usually from low-ranking academic journals likely gleaned from the Family Research Council's (or some other Christian fundamentalist organisation like it) treasure chest of anti-gay 'research'. You know, the kind of research 'demonstrating' that gays are more likely to rape little kids, murder your grannie and have a hotline to the devil. A long running Jamaican agitprop feature on that front has been this: Antigay violence in Jamaica ain't the real problem (empirical research undertaken by international human rights organisations be damned) but violent gay men beating each other up are the real problem.

Here's an example taken from the Observer. In last Sunday's edition, under the byline of 'DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter', the campaign continues. Hussey-Whyte notes in her introductory line that 'Many may argue that the gay community is falsely accused of excessive violence against its own members, but the horrible wounds on Keron Brown's body tell a different story.” Her story is about a gay man who she reports has been abused pretty badly by his partner and that partner's mates. Assuming that the case is true – I have no way to verify it, but it's perfectly possible, of course, that a gay man was abused by his partner – nothing follows with regard to how the average gay person treats his or her partner(s).

No doubt Donna Hussey-Whyte doesn't know what inductive reasoning is, and even less why we know that such modes of analysis don't work as a scientific method. So, to her benefit: You can't really use anecdotal cases to make a general point. Say, assume I see someone jumping out of a 10th floor window and ending up on the ground floor without injury. I shouldn't make that the story line of an article suggesting that generally speaking it's sensible to assume that jumping out of 10th floor windows isn't a risky activity. I'm sure you get the drift. So, before Donna Hussey-Whyte's agitprop piece even goes into full swing, anyone who took Scientific Method 101 knows already that not only is her first sentence wrong, but more importantly, that anyone can know with certainty that her story can't prove her point about the gay community being pretty violent against its own members. It's not even clear what she means with gay community to be honest. Is her proposition that the average gay person is more likely, or a membership club called 'gay community' or is something else tickling her incisive reporting mind?

Even if there was a whole bunch of such cases, nothing would follow regarding the question of how the majority of gay people in Jamaica treat each other. Short of a representative survey, this bunch of cases would be just that, a bunch of anecdotes. The question is: Could such research even be undertaken in a society where gay people are hunted out of their houses, beaten up randomly in the streets, and where homosexual conduct and relationships are still illegal. The truth is, if we bothered investigating what amounts to an odd-indeed hypothesis to begin with, we would really have no means to undertake such a study in current-day Jamaica.

Anyhow, back to Donna Hussey-Whyte's agitprop piece: Just think of a counter example of similar disingenuity, think of the number of crimes committed by heterosexual people in Jamaica. Most of those crimes are committed against other heterosexual people. Would this tell us anything at all about a purported link between heterosexuality and violent behaviour? Not at all – that is unless you're Donna Hussey-Whyte. Oddly, she never filed this particular investigative report. Makes you wonder why...

Having said that, from societies more peaceful than the Jamaican we do know that gay people are – if anything – less prone to be violent than their straight counter parts. Is it possible that anti-gay violence and general societal homophobia cause possibly surplus violence among gay people that otherwise would not exist? This truly is an interesting question, if we accept the local media's as yet unsubstantiated premise that gay people in Jamaica are really more prone to abuse each other than they are in other countries. Do we know whether they are more prone to this sorts of behaviour than they are in other countries, or do we know whether they're more prone to violence than are heterosexual people in Jamaica? We know none of this, unless we believe that Donna's inductive 'reasoning' is a good substitute for actual evidence.

As ever, beware of Jamaica's newsmedia when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. Their reporting is by and large in the service of anti-gay prejudice. It's mostly propaganda, no more, no less.


  1. Yyour dismissal of using a single case for an inductive inference is justified to some extent, but what makes this instance particularly egregious is that there are a few obvious selection biases at work. First, anecdotes involving violence are reported disproportionately to their actual frequency. Second, somehow I'm convinced that this journalist would not include any stories about any reports from gays that didn't include any mentions of violence.

    Without any of these biases (i.e. if the journalist would have randomly sampled a Jamaican gay person and surveyed him/her about his/her experiences with violence), the anecdote would provide some (defeasible) evidence that violence is widespread in the gay community in Jamaica.

  2. Alex, I think your point about the selection bias is well-taken. I kinda doubt that your random sampling would provide us with any evidence one way or another, if by evidence you mean evidence about the extent of gay-on-gay violence. For that you'd need large representative samples.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Certainty is not a defensible standard for policy making in the context of assisted dying

I mentioned in a Bioethics editorial a while ago that new frontiers are opening in the assisted dying debate. As an increasing number of...