Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Clifton Report

A recent article bMark Robison is the most recent example of dishonest pit bull advocacy. Fact checker: What's so scary about pit bulls? misrepresents the Clifton Report, fabricates its own statistics, and makes incorrect assumptions.

One of the most egregious errors is Mr Robison's claim that "Impound stats by primary breed show that pit bulls make up about 17.3 percent of dogs."  Mr Robison fails to give reliable sources for his statistics, so we are unable to discuss them rationally. The attempt to base breed population on shelter intake statistics shows the most specious reasoning. Shelter intake statistics for pit bulls demonstrate only that pit bulls are a highly liquid asset. People pick them up then dump them off at shelters more often than other breeds for obvious reasons: they are a volatile breed. That is the only conclusion that can reasonably be drawn from shelter intake statistics about pit bulls. People are far more likely to keep a lap dog or a  retriever for the entire life of the dog.

Mr Robison's article is heavy with statistics but he fails to support them by citing reliable sources. His own tally shows that pit bulls are responsible for 13.4% of the local (Washoe County, NV) bites, then Mr Robison tries to tie this figure to the overall dog population. He continues: Before trying this, we've got to switch percentages. 

A casual reader may be impressed by this legerdemain, but more astute readers are left to wonder how Mr Robison came to write such a dodgy, suspect piece of journalism. Anyone willing to follow him down this path deserves a special Blind Man's Bluff award.

Mr Robison's article is replete with errors but one sentence in particular calls for correction.
But Clifton’s research covers less than 2 percent of dog bites requiring hospitalization and relies only on reports in the media, which have been shown to emphasize pit bull attacks over those by other breeds. 
The sentence above makes three claims about Clifton's methodology. Mr Robison clearly failed to factcheck with the author of the Clifton report before making these claims; had he done so he would have avoided three of his many errors. I wrote to Merritt Clifton and include his replies below:

But Clifton's research covers less than 2 percent of dog bites requiring hospitalization . . . . 
I'm looking at attacks at approximately the 1-in-10,000 level of severity.  "Hospitalization" may include temporary observation for accelerated heart rate,  treatment of non-life-threatening post-bite infections,  & treatment of all sorts of other injuries & conditions which fall well short of the top level of dog-inflicted harm.
and relies only on reports in the media . . . . . . 
Media reports include police reports,  animal control reports,  witness accounts,  victim accounts in many instances,  and hospital reports.  They are,  in short,  multi-sourced,  unlike reports from any single source.
which have been shown to emphasize pit bull attacks over those by other breeds.
False.  Media reports emphasize fatalities and disfigurements.
Pit bull advocates have yet to find ANY fatalities inflicted by any breed which have eluded my notice over the past 30 years. They have come up with zero,  zilch,  nada.
It's clear that Robison has attacked the Clifton Report without having read it. I have therefore emailed Mr Robison a copy of the June 2011 Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada by Merritt Clifton, which is available as a free pdf. This report is the only ongoing, updated, authoritative statistical report of dog bites, and thus is a favorite target of pit bull advocates. 

Mr Robison's cooked statistics, the methodology, and the attack on Clifton -- all bear the odor of the advocacy machine. SRUV calls upon Mr Robison to reveal the sources of his statistics or to issue a retraction. Mr Robison could repair some of the damage to his journalistic reputation by offering proof that he was not spoon-fed the substance of his article in a letter or educational bulletin from a "legislative analyst" of an advocacy organization.

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Related posts:

     Several of the responses to this post, including comments from a pit bull advocate with an interest in bite statistics, have been transferred from the comment section below to The Clifton Report: II;

     Following a subsequent blog by Mr Robison, SRUV responded with The Clifton Report III

See also: Natural Consequences, Discredited Sources

Wikipedia: The Clifton Report