Mon | Feb 24, 2020

Peter Espeut | How to lie with statistics

Published:Friday | March 22, 2019 | 12:15 AM

In 1970 when I first entered The University of the West Indies as an undergraduate (all of 49 years ago! Gosh!), we natural science students were required to take a compulsory course called ‘Use of English’. It was a good course, covering topics like creative writing, making an argument, logic, and false logic.

One of the recommended texts was a little book called How to lie with Statistics by journalist Darrell Huff.

I think the journalists at The Gleaner have read this book thoroughly, based on a lead story in Monday’s Gleaner, headlined ‘RJRGLEANER-Don Anderson Poll: 21% of Jamaicans back abortion on demand’; because when you actually read the story, the headline is exposed as fake news.

Inside, it says: “The poll, …, found that 75 per cent of respondents want the ban on abortion to remain in place and 25 per cent want it lifted”.

It goes on to say that “Among the 25 per cent who believe that abortion should be legalised, the poll found that 44 per cent of respondents think the procedure should be available to women who were raped and victims of incest. Twenty-four per cent say that abortion should be allowed on medical grounds, while 21 per cent think it should be allowed under any circumstances”.

So, the truth is that only 21 per cent of 25 per cent – a paltry five per cent of Jamaicans interviewed – back abortion on demand. When you consider that the sample error is plus or minus three per cent, the real figure could be as high as eight per cent or as low as two per cent.

The position of this newspaper on abortion is well known: over the last two decades, it has been a strong advocate of abortion. Shame on The Gleaner for resorting to fake news and obfuscation to support its untenable position as a merchant of death.


An honest headline would have been: ‘RJRGLEANER-Don Anderson Poll: Only 5% of Jamaicans back abortion on demand’.

The story went on to say: “Seven per cent of respondents who are in favour of legalising abortion say it should be done if the woman is financially unable to care for the child, while two per cent each said that an abortion should be allowed because of the woman’s right to choose, where there is fear that she is unable to manage, or in cases where the pregnancy interferes with her job. One per cent believe it should be permitted in cases of unplanned pregnancies”.

I am sure these data are very troubling to The Gleaner and other proponents of the culture of death: none of these figures are statistically significant. Translating the figures into percentages of the whole, other honest headlines for this story could have been:

‘RJRGLEANER-Don Anderson Poll: Only 1.8% of Jamaicans back abortion for financially challenged women’. (Some people believe that abortion is the solution for the poor having too many children.)

Or ‘RJRGLEANER-Don Anderson Poll: Only 0.5% of Jamaicans back a woman’s right to choose’. (The slogan of The Gleaner and other abortion activists is that a woman has the right to choose what happens to her own body; only a miniscule number of Jamaicans buy into this false slogan: after all, the unborn child is in the woman’s body, but is not a part of it.)

Or ‘RJRGLEANER-Don Anderson Poll: Only 0.5% of Jamaicans back abortion if pregnancy interferes with job’. (Some people argue that abortions are called for when unplanned pregnancies interfere with the career of the mother, for example, if she is an Olympic athlete competing on the circuit.)

Or ‘RJRGLEANER-Don Anderson Poll: Only 0.25% of Jamaicans back abortion for unplanned pregnancies’. (Some people want abortion to be a birth-control method; this Gleaner poll confirms that almost all Jamaicans reject this approach.)

I would like to thank the RJRGLEANER Communications Group for funding and publishing this study. If what politicians respond to is public opinion, then the data provided by The Gleaner demand that abortion remain illegal in Jamaica.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to