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Could Coed Fraternities Put An End To The Epidemic Of College Sexual Assault In America?; The Renowned Statistician, Sir David Spiegelhalter, Takes On The Truth Behind Suspicious Stats. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired March 29, 2019 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ANCHOR, CNN: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Amanpour. Here's what's coming up.
Could coed fraternities put an end to the epidemic of college sexual assault in America? Two to students tell me why they're suing Yale
University to add women to these frats. Then, can numbers lie? The renowned statistician, Sir David Spiegelhalter, takes on the truth behind
suspicious stats. And, dying of whiteness.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN METZL, PHYSICIAN AND AUTHOR: These policies themselves really functioned as risks to your own health.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Physician and author, Jonathan Metzl explain to our Hari Sreenivasan.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. It's been called an epidemic affecting universities across America, sexual
harassment and assault on college campuses. And three young women are determined to do something about it now, Anna McNeil, Ellie Singer, and Ry
Walker are all students at Yale University, and they say they were groped at fraternity parties.
Now, they're suing Yale and nine of its fraternities over a culture that they described as enabling harassment. They argue that the frat system
host drunken parties that often results in sexual assault and causes women to be viewed as sexual objects. Their demand make frats coed, allow women
Fraternities and their so called Greek system date back to America's founding, but they've come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. The
organizations are technically separate from the universities, but these students argue that they are still Yale's responsibility. Anna McNeil and
Ellie Singer, join me from New York to discuss the lawsuit and why they're taking a stand.
Ellie and Anna, welcome to the program.
BURNETT: Thank you.
ANNA MCNEIL, STUDENT SUING YALE UNIVERSITY: Hi, thanks for having us.
AMANPOUR: So can I ask you what exactly - sum up what you're trying to achieve with your lawsuit, why you're bringing this lawsuit?
MCNEIL: Thanks so much for having us. We're really happy to be here. With this lawsuit, we're really trying to bring about an end of inequality
and sexual harassment on Yale's campus. What's going on at Yale with fraternity culture rampant sexual harassment and Yale's hands off approach
to fraternities is really a microcosm of what's going on across the country at many different fraternities. We brought this problem first to our
peers, then to administrators.
And because we were rejected by our peers and dismissed by our administrators, we've decided to file this lawsuit to hopefully help put a
stop to the inequality and sexual harassment that we and countless other female students have faced at the hands of fraternities.
AMANPOUR: And it is a class action lawsuit. Ellie, let me ask you to respond to this. Basically, in 2007, the study by researchers at the
College of William & Mary, which is in Virginia found the fraternity man with three times more likely to commit rape than other men on college
campuses and that is a very, very concerning figure.
And it also confirmed according to this study that fraternities provide the culture of male peer support for violence against women that permits bad
attitudes to become treacherous behavior. Comment on that and how that is manifested and perhaps both of you can say how you came across this, what
happened to you guys that you have brought this class action lawsuit?
ELLIE SINGER, STUDENT SUING YALE UNIVERSITY: So it's our belief that as it stands when fraternity members are male and they only have to live and
interact with other males, they see their peers as male and women functionally just become sexual objects who they have at parties. And
that's what we believe leads that culture of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
We believe that if women are to join fraternities, then they become peers and no longer objects. So the experiences that we had where we as many
first years do went to fraternity parties early in our Yale career, and experienced leering sexual harassment and even sexual assault.
I myself was at a fraternity party when I was a freshman dancing with some girls and a man I've never met before decided he could just grab me from
behind. When I said no, he didn't do anything the first time. When I said no the second time, he finally left. That's the experience that opened my
eyes, I think, to the culture of fraternities.
AMANPOUR: And Anna, what sort of experience did you have?
MCNEIL: Similarly to Ellie, my first semester at Yale I had many experiences of being groped without my consent at fraternity parties,
sometimes many experiences even over the course of one night where similarly someone I didn't know and someone I couldn't see approached me
from behind and groped me, groped my breasts, groped my butt without my consent and it was wasn't until I was able to physically separate myself
Which is difficult in such a crowded space that the assault stopped and that happened to me many times over the course of my first semester.
AMANPOUR: I mean I think fraternities and the whole culture has been fairly controversial for many, many years. I mean fraternities have been
around since practically the dawn of the United States, since the late 1700s and sororities which are, of course, all-girl units about a hundred
Now, we asked the Yale administration for a response, but they didn't refer specifically to your lawsuit. They didn't give us a specific response, but
they gave us and sent us to a letter that was sent by the Dean to students last February after year-long review of campus culture, including the
fraternity culture. There are several elements to this and I want to start with this one.
"I condemn the culture described in these accounts; it runs counter to our community's values of making everyone feel welcome, respected, and safe. I
also offer some plain advice about events like these; do not go to them."
It is a question that many will ask, don't go to them. It's fairly well- known that this kind of, as people like to say, boys will be boys, frat boys will be frat boys, why do you go to them?
SINGER: So I personally no longer go to fraternity parties, but I recognize that this is a problem bigger than myself. Countless women and
countless non-binary people and even young men go to fraternity parties all the time, especially when they're early in their college careers and they
don't know where else to party.
We think that it's important to make that culture safer for them, because even if we don't go other people are vulnerable, but it goes beyond just
these sexual violence as well, because fraternity brothers have access to a vast network of powerful people and powerful careers that sororities don't
have the same access to. So we think just saying don't go ignores a huge problem that a lot of people are still going to face both within the
parties and outside of them.
MCNEIL: And I'll also just add to that and say that, Marvin Chun's advice not to go to parties is difficult for a lot of students to implement in
their lives because there are very few alternative party spaces especially for younger students. Yale College has not taken any meaningful steps to
help sustain or themselves provide those alternative party spaces and Yale sustains a mutually dependent relationship with their fraternities where
Yale College has scaled back a lot of its own social programming for students, because they know that fraternities will fill that void and Yale
College depends on the fraternities to keep up that - to meet that social demand, because they themselves are not meeting it.
So I'd say Marvin Chun's words are - it's a lot of talk, but it unfortunately doesn't match the action that Yale College has taken in the
AMANPOUR: Well, I'm going to delve into that in a moment because the whole notion that Yale basically says, correct me if I'm wrong, that these
fraternities are not actually formally part of Yale. They're off campus and they don't involve themselves in organizing them or in being
responsible for them. But I'll read, again, more from the response.
But first I want to read what the lawyer for the fraternities who are named in the lawsuit says and they say that the accusations that you've brought
are, "Baseless and unfounded." And that the fraternities and their national organizations would vigorously defend themselves against the
claims. I mean, clearly you can imagine that that is what they would say.
What do you say to that and how powerful a case can you bring?
MCNEIL: In response to the fraternities' lawyers claim that the accusations are baseless, fraternities are discriminatory at their core.
We have written correspondence with fraternity directors and from fraternity members at Yale saying that by definition men are only eligible
for membership. So that fact is indisputable that at their foundation fraternities discriminate against women and that's kind of what we're
challenging such an accepted and normalized part of college culture in America.
And then also in response to the other accusations that they say are baseless, I mean, Ellie and I have both experienced sexual assault of
fraternities. We've circulated a petition among other Yale students that has over a hundred signatures that people have either experienced the
violence at fraternities themselves or witnessed it happened to others.
So those accusations are not baseless because countless other women and men can attest to the veracity of those statements that fraternities are
hotbeds of sexual misconduct and that they promote and sustain discrimination in their everyday activities. So in response to those,
that's what I'd say.
AMANPOUR: So other universities have decided to change the system. For example, back in 2016 members of what Harvard's administration calls
unrecognized single gender social organizations are no longer eligible for campus leadership positions or scholarships and alike. So Harvard has
taken steps in the direction that you seem to be are wanting to take your university and the frats there.
So just again explain your case is it sort of an, if I might put it this way, kind of a Title IX case right, it's about gender discrimination in
terms of membership rather than a case against abuse. Is that correct?
MCNEIL: Right. Well, what makes this case the first of its kind is that we're challenging fraternities on the basis of gender discrimination that
we were not accepted to them. That's what makes it a novel case and one that has no precedent, but there's also a claim that the fraternities
promote these sexually hostile environments and then also a claim that Yale has awareness of this and has chosen not to take action.
So there's a Title IX component that's about gender discrimination, but there's also this hostile environment claim that they do promote sexual
misconduct and danger female and on binary students. But correct, the gender discrimination claim that we're making is new and that's under Title
SINGER: And one other thing I will say is it's a shame that Yale is so far behind Harvard. The Harvard-Yale rivalry is historic and Yale's falling
behind. It's failing its students in a way that Harvard refused to do.
AMANPOUR: Do you both feel or have you felt any backlash? Here you are speaking very publicly and loudly on many, many platforms about this case
and you've just said, "It's a shame that Yale is lagging behind Harvard," as you put it. Are you facing any backlash from fellow students, from
faculty, from the administration?
MCNEIL: Since the lawsuit has been filed, there haven't really been any new reactions on campus. Ellie and I are both members of Engender, a
student organization that I helped co-found in the fall of 2016 and we've been advocating for the gender integration of social spaces at Yale for two
years now. So that argument was really not new to our peers although we initially faced some backlash for that. The filing of the lawsuit didn't
really incite any new backlash among students, because it had been known for a while but this was our platform.
AMANPOUR: And just before I move on to a more general question, I just want to finish reading the Dean's statement and this goes to the heart of
this issue, "Although Yale College makes itself available informally to fraternities and sorority, it plays no formal role in the operations of
organizations not affiliated with the university, including Greek organizations."
That's the, I guess, the formal name for fraternities. Nonetheless he goes on to say, "I urge all Yale College students who belong to them to take
advantage of the training and resources available to the entire student body. I fully support the proposal that fraternities and sororities
promote and share best practices among themselves and of course all students are encouraged to raise any issues or concerns with my office."
What is the response when you do raise those concerns with that office?
MCNEIL: Well, we had numerous meetings with administrators in the 2016- 2017 academic year and in the following year as well. We brought this concern to many members of the Yale College Dean's office including the
Assistant Dean who is appointed to oversee Greek life. So, I mean, right there there's a contradiction that they do have someone who corresponds
semi-regularly with fraternity presidents, so this idea that they're unrecognized is completely false.
And when we met with a number of these administrators, telling them our own experiences of sexual harassment, kind of telling them things they already
knew because they've commissioned a number of reports in the last decade which I've given them similar findings that fraternities are sexually
hostile environments and have to be regulated. We brought this information to them.
They said things like our hands are tied. We can't help you. We acknowledge that it's discrimination, but unfortunately it's permitted
under our college policy. Basically, they repeatedly failed to uphold their promise of equal opportunity and anti-discrimination. They, in many
meetings with us, kind of made it clear that those were promises they did not intend to keep.
AMANPOUR: Obviously, you're both at Yale and you've obviously been aware and how have you reacted to this these charges and allegations and
indictments because of the bribery scandals to get kids into school in ways that are not legal and they did happen at Yale. Yale was involved in that
and in fact it just rescinded the admission of a student connected to that scam.
What is you view on that? I mean did you know these kinds of things? Do you know any of the kids? I mean, it must be very difficult for the kids,
particularly if they didn't know that their parents were up to this kind of alleged behavior.
SINGER: Well, I think the issue is if children didn't know their parents were up to this kind of behavior, that's incredibly unfortunate. But at
the end of the day, people getting in by gaming the system still takes away the spot from somebody who perhaps was more deserving and I think that's
still really unfair even if those children weren't aware which we're not always sure of.
I think the reaction at Yale has been very interesting, because some people reacted with outrage. A lot of people have laughed it off and shared memes
But at the end of the day, I think nobody is surprised that getting into Yale isn't exactly equal, because there are other forms of, while legal,
different ways that you get admitted unfairly. And I think that is a broader conversation about inequality at Yale that needs to happen and it
exists in a bunch of different spheres.
AMANPOUR: Let me just ask you about whether anything has changed on your campus in your experience in the wake of the Me Too movement. I mean it's
been over a year now that this has really been very dominant and a huge amount of attention has come belatedly but nonetheless welcome attention to
the abuse of girls and women and young men if they're abused as well. Are things changing? I mean, do you see a different atmosphere in your
MCNEIL: I think to an extent, I do. Every semester, the number of reported instances of sexual misconduct rises at Yale. So I'd say that
there definitely has been in the past two and a half years that I've been at Yale and an increased awareness of the problem and survivors are much
more - have been more vocal in those years and are given more platforms to make their stories heard, absolutely.
AMANPOUR: I mean it's interesting also to ask you this in the wake of - I mean, you may have seen this news story, but a high school in Maryland it
turns out that some girls figured out that they were on a list that apparently boys were circulating and that they were named and rated
according to numbers with decimal points in terms of their appearance and they've decided not just to take it quietly and to name it, and out it, and
talk about it and even talk to the boys who may have been circulating these petitions.
I wonder what you make of that and whether you know about it. It says they took it to the school administrators and to their classmates demanding not
just disciplinary action, but also sort of a school-wide awareness and accounting for a fairly toxic habit and behavior.
MCNEIL: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I mean I stand with those girls. I support them. I think it's really important to point out that behavior like this,
if it's not checked in middle school or high school, it definitely goes on in college. Things like this have happened at Yale, continue to happen at
Yale and every day administrators decide to say, "This isn't our issue." It allows that behavior to persist and to continue even into adulthood.
So I think it's important that we recognize that this is kind of a pipeline fraternities are a part of. The same boys will be boys argument that
applies to middle schoolers somehow applies also to adult men doing similarly hurtful and unacceptable things. So I think it's definitely an
interesting story to point out the similarities to that kind of behavior that can thrive in high school and then also in environments like Yale with
the similar kind of boys club atmospheres where the behavior of male students goes unchecked, absolutely.
AMANPOUR: Ellie Singer and Anna McNeil, thank you so much for joining us.
SINGER: Thank you.
MCNEIL: Thanks for having us.
AMANPOUR: And just to know that we have asked the lawyer representing the fraternities named in the lawsuit for further comment and we will report
that as soon as we get it.
Now, it's often said that there are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics. But that slogan is roundly rejected by my next guest and
renowned statistician, Sir David Spiegelhalter. In his latest book, The Art of Statistics, taking aim at dodgy data in the age of alternative facts
has never been more important.
And while statistics can be baffling and even misleading, the Cambridge University professor tells me that it's all about the context and the
quality in this master class in math.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Sir David Spiegelhalter, welcome to the program.
DAVID SPIEGELHALTER, AUTHOR, "THE ART OF STATISTICS": Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So your new book the art of statistics, what is it for? Is it for geeks? Is it for the lay people, the novices when it comes to stats
and maths and alike?
SPIEGELHALTER: I guess it's for quite a wide audience. It's for people who want to understand better all of the numbers in the news, everything
they read about and who want to essentially teach themselves about the principles of statistical analysis. And that's in a sense to be honest a
bit dull and many people will have done some fairly tedious stat courses in their education.
I think this tries to be a lot more interesting by engaging people with solving problems. Everything I do is about solving problems, using data to
solve problems, and using that to illustrate statistical principles.
AMANPOUR: Why our stats so important and why do people not know enough about them? And that's coupled with this kind of assault on the nature of
facts and evidence and the famous line people have had enough of experts.
SPIEGELHALTER: Yes, exactly. We live in a - at the age of data and apart from the traditional data of official statistics and scientific research.
We've got this massive explosion in data science, machine learning and AI, terribly exciting time. And in this age of data, it's important to realize
that the data doesn't speak for itself.
You don't just stick the data in outcomes and answer, it requires skill and understanding and care to wring out the meaning from the data, to draw the
correct conclusions with the appropriate caution and humility.
AMANPOUR: So let's just globally just assert that data and doing what you're saying it should do put it in context, wring out the meaning affects
just about every aspect of daily life, political life, scientific life, right?
SPIEGELHALTER: Everything. Everything from the decisions we make about our health, in our finance, in our families, in our future and, of course,
how we vote, it all depends on people giving us information. And a lot of that information is in terms of numbers, how big something is. That's what
all of those numbers are, they just tell you how big something. Is it small? Is it big? Should we worry about it? Shouldn't we worry about it?
AMANPOUR: And, again, I think people are desperate in this age of fake news and everybody competing to be the expert and peddling whatever,
sometimes rubbish. People want to know where they can get the best and how they can actually trust the data and the stats.
SPIEGELHALTER: Exactly. It's all to do with trustworthiness of numbers and usually when I hear a number I'm very suspicious, because I think that
person is trying to persuade me of something. They're trying to change my mind. Usually, they're trying to make you frightened about something, make
you anxious to influence your opinion. They're not actually just informing me.
And so I think it's an essential skill in order to be able to understand how numbers can be used and misused and to be able to question them.
AMANPOUR: Well, you go through a whole set of framework for how to read and address and how you've come to your conclusions. And we have as a
guide, several pages of some of your points, and we're going to start at the beginning with our algorithms and we're going to look up there and see
the first picture. And this, of course, is Karl Dahl who you call the luckiest person to survive the Titanic disaster. Tell us why and how your
stat look made that conclusion?
SPIEGELHALTER: OK, the Titanic you may not know but within the data science community there's a lot of interest in the Titanic because there's
a very nice messy data set of the passenger showing how old they were, their class, where they're traveling, how much they pay for that ticket,
their name and et cetera, et cetera, even for some of them they cabin and it has become a sort of - it become a big competition to try to build the
best algorithm that can predict who survived and who didn't.
And we know that's going to be influenced by males tend to have a lower survival rate, whether you're first, second or third class. But what other
features might help. And there's been a competition running online, there's 59,000 entries into it. And so I thought, "I'll go with this." So
I got the Titanic data set and built this algorithm, quite a simple one to predict who's going to survive.
You keep out a chunk of data to test it on and what I found is that - and I've tried all sorts of algorithms from simple little statistical ones,
regressions that are known to really complex neural networks, I tried them all and then looked at, if you - over all of those which survivor got the
lowest probability of survival? Who was the most surprising survivor? And it was this guy, Karl Dahl.
AMANPOUR: And why?
SPIEGELHALTER: Well, was travelling third-class as a single man. He only paid 8 pounds for his ticket. All of the indicators which suggested that
he should not survive. And in fact it turns out he just jumped into the sea. There was no one survived who did that, but then he got onto a
lifeboat and the people of the lifeboat tried to push him back in, but he managed to climb back, climb onto that lifeboat.
I think he actually just fought his way onto the lifeboat and he survived. So maybe he shouldn't be the luckiest man, maybe he just fought his way
AMANPOUR: Well, also, and let's just point out that he was a single man so he could do that without having to worry about looking after his wife.
This is a lady who he married much later and he lived happily ever after. So that's a bit of fun using ...
SPIEGELHALTER: Yes, a serious point though ...
AMANPOUR: ... a serious point?
SPIEGELHALTER: ... a serious point and there are all sort of algorithms you can use to make predictions and the best thing is they produce a
probability. They don't say what's going to happen, they produce a probability of what might happen.
AMANPOUR: Right. So fast-forward to this thing called predict about health care and survivability rates, what is that about in terms who got
cancer or any other diseases?
SPIEGELHALTER: There's a predict for breast cancer. It's for women who have got breast cancer and are trying to decide about what treatment to
have. They can have surgery, but they also have chemotherapy or take hormone therapy or Herceptin trastuzumab and it depends on what their
survival benefit would be and you put in your risk factors, and some type of tumor, and it will give you a probability of surviving 10-15 years with
these different treatments and it presents that to women for it for a decision.
AMANPOUR: And how long has been in effect?
SPIEGELHALTER: It's been out for some time and so there are million users around the world.
AMANPOUR: And is it right?
SPIEGELHALTER: Well, it's not right or wrong.
Remember it gives a probability.
AMANPOUR: And has it been proven, the probabilities?
SPIEGELHALTER: Yes, it's been there. That probabilities are reliable. When it says 70% chance living 10 years, 70% of those women will live 10
years. So it's got reliable numbers, but it doesn't say what's going to happen to you, but it's been proven to be very useful and just last week a
version for men with prostate cancer came out.
AMANPOUR: Is there a sort of a potential downside that patients might rely too much on these algorithms?
SPIEGELHALTER: There's this idea within AI called over trust because when an algorithm comes out with a probability or that sort of prediction of
what might happen, how long the possibilities of survival, people could become too reliance on it. You're absolutely right and it is only an
algorithm. It only uses certain pieces of information. There may be other bits of information that are important but don't go into the algorithm.
AMANPOUR: So let's look at this other bit of information. So exaggeration of proportions, let's take the World Health Organization stats first. They
have said 50 grams of processed meat a day increases your relative risk of developing bowel cancer by 18 percent. OK, that's the WHO 2015. And then,
of course, the newspapers got hold of it, you've got banger out of order and all of those puns.
What is the problem with this? I mean was it correct to WHO? Was it read correctly by the public?
SPIEGELHALTER: The numbers that the WHO put out seem to be fairly reliable. But how it was interpreted by the public and by some of the
newspapers was terrible, because it was saying that bacon is as dangerous as cigarettes, things like that, which is complete nonsense. And those
numbers though are very difficult to interpret personally which is an 18% increase, well, what does that mean? Is that important? Should I worry?
Should I give up bacon? Should I not?
And what I do in the book is to put that into a framework which makes it much easier to understand.
AMANPOUR: And so what should people do when they're faced with those statistics and then those headlines?
SPIEGELHALTER: What they should do is certainly demand better communication from the journalists. But they should say, "Well, 18 percent
of what?" And it turns out that out of a hundred people around six will get bowel cancer sadly during their lifetime. So what that means is if all
those hundred people ate great big greasy bacon sandwich every single day of their life, that risk would got by 80%, which means that six would go up
to essentially seven.
So a hundred people eating that stuff every day of their lives get one extra case of bowel cancer and that's kind of puts it in perspective.
AMANPOUR: So that puts the exaggeration and the proportion thing into perspective and then you've got this other thing, what you call data
quality. The quality of the data. There is a graph. Here we have, a study of the average sexual partners for British men and women over three
decades. And as you can see on the left the men seem to say they have a significantly higher level of sexual partners than the women. What is
wrong with that picture?
It is mathematically impossible that men on average number of partners that is greater than the women's average number of partners, because it takes
two to be a partner. These are just opposite sex partnerships.
AMANPOUR: In other words there's only a finite number of people --
SPIEGELHALTER: And they got same number, men and women, a partnership is two people and the average in terms of the mean average must be the same in
both groups. So something is wrong there and there's been a lot of research trying to work out what is wrong. And the conclusion is that
there's a number of factors, women when they report the number of partnerships they've had, there's some sort of what's called social
desirability bias, they may not be willing to own up to the number of social partnership.
AMANPOUR: So they underreport.
SPIEGELHALTER: They do tend to underreport.
AMANPOUR: Is that the opposite with men? Do they over report?
SPIEGELHALTER: The men do tend to over report and that might be a boastfulness and things like that. But actually not, I think, the
conclusion is that a lot of it is just to do with the way that people remember and why as women will be working out remembering individuals,
names, and faces and occasions. Men, will just (inaudible) to 10, 20, 30.
And if you look at the actual, in the book I've got the actual graph, it shows that this great big - so peaks on 20, 30, 40, 50. People aren't
counting, they're just making a vague guess.
AMANPOUR: So, I mean, that's kind of amusing.
SPIEGELHALTER: It's important.
AMANPOUR: How serious and important is it and by the way what are other things that could fall into that category?
SPIEGELHALTER: Oh, I think anywhere where you ask someone dating, you can't actually go out and prove it, we cannot prove it, we cannot find out
the truth about any of this stuff. This is a very reputable surveys, one of the best surveys of sexual behavior there is, meticulously done. And
the gap has got smaller if you notice over time they're getting better and better as listing these responses from people.
And but in anything where people are asking about what crimes people might have committed, whether they're drugs or not.
Those are tricky questions, so you have to allow for the fact that people might not be telling the complete truth, sometimes, because they just can't
AMANPOUR: Can I get into the really sort of tricky kind of poisonous and toxic issue these days and that's politics, and claims, and counterclaims
and partisanship. First and foremost, do stats in the way you investigate them play a role in pollster? Pollsters, for instance, polling who's going
to win what. I mean, so many pollsters have been discredited over the last several election cycles, because the person predicted didn't actually win
and somebody else did. Has that got anything to do with stats, because I keep thinking of like Nate Silver for instance.
SPIEGELHALTER: It's got everything to do with stats, because it's definitely to do with the quality of the data and that when you're doing
telephone polls, you might get a response rate of about - between just over 10 percent maybe. So you're not necessarily getting a representative
sample. But the other point and I've got huge admirer of Nate Silver's work is that it's not a matter of getting it right or wrong, he's always
portrayed as the person who called the election result.
For Trump he gave - just at the last minute, he's giving 29 percent probability that Trump will win. Roughly one out of three and people was,
"Oh, he was wrong." No. You can think of it in three imaginary elections, Hillary would have won two and Trump would have one. We happen to get the
one that he won.
So he wasn't wrong. He wasn't as right as he's been in the past, but it's not a matter of right or wrong when you're giving probabilities. And Nate
was extremely good at only ever giving probabilities he never says what will happen.
AMANPOUR: So what should people think then when they go to vote or when they're reading about an election, given the fact that the sort of the
impression is that all the pollsters are wrong?
SPIEGELHALTER: Oh, well, the pollsters actually they're not too bad. They're trying to get their act together better by using better data, using
better data sources, and recently there's been a develop in some quite fancy statistical methods, so they go into a bit in the book which actually
seem to be getting things really quite a lot closer. Just phoning people often saying how you're going to vote actually is now seems a pretty -
well, it is an unreliable way to find out.
AMANPOUR: So the thing I want to talk about is positive and negative framing of numbers. One of the huge big numbers in red on that bus was
that 350 million a week, this was Boris Johnson and the Brexiteers who promised that the NHS was going to get that every single week once Britain
was out of the EU. What is wrong with that picture?
SPIEGELHALTER: Well, first of all the number is wrong. We don't send 350 pounds million to the EU each year. And they were really criticized using
that number by multiple bodies, official bodies who are writing that to say, "You cannot use that claim." But even if it were a more appropriate
number which was 117 million, 118 million, the point about it is you have to ask, is this really such a big number? It sounds like a massive number,
350 pounds million a week.
But by changing the framing, we've learnt from people like Danny Kahneman that the framing of the number makes an enormous difference to its
emotional impact. I can make that number look small. Shall I make that number look small?
SPIEGELHALTER: OK, 350 pounds a week, let's take that, so there are 60 million people in the U.K., so that's about seven or what's that, 6 pounds
a week each and that's sort of 80 pence a day, that's a about a packet of crisps.
AMANPOUR: I get a chip (inaudible) really nothing.
SPIEGELHALTER: A packet of chips. That's what it is. And also if I did that as a fraction of total GDP, it'd look like a tiny fraction.
AMANPOUR: And yet it played a huge draw.
SPIEGELHALTER: It was very, very clever. If that said 17 billion a year, people don't understand billions is many, but The 350 million is very
cleverly brilliant bit of work.
AMANPOUR: And so that was the Brexit position. By contrast, the government which was the remain and the Chancellor of the Exchequer
otherwise known as the Treasury Secretary came out with a bunch of counter numbers that didn't really pierce anybody ...
SPIEGELHALTER: It didn't ...
AMANPOUR: ... no.
SPIEGELHALTER: ... it was equally framed to try to sound impressive and frankly equally dubious because he said every family will be 4,000 pounds a
year worse off if we leave the EU and he got that by dividing and put some projection of change in GDP which is purely a judgment, it can't be an
accurate figure, divided by the number of families in the country got this 4,000 pounds and put that up on big boards.
AMANPOUR: And people didn't quite know what to make of it.
SPIEGELHALTER: Exactly. And I think people - that was even more dubious number, this was a dubious number and it didn't have the impact, obviously,
that they desired.
AMANPOUR: For myself and viewers, what should they think then in election campaigns where they may see crazy factors?
SPIEGELHALTER: Oh, I think every time you see a number being used in an election campaign, you should treat it with deep skepticism. There's sort
of questions to ask, "Why am I being told this? How does it -" common people have said, "How does it make me feel and be aware of the feelings
that have been generated by that number ...
... and realized that the sort of the framing and the games and the tricks that person communicating to you is trying to play.
AMANPOUR: And then we've got this other thing. This is one of the last areas we'll talk about and that is correlation versus causation. So in
other words just because the economy does well, under one president or badly under another president, it doesn't necessarily mean that President
is responsible. Is that right?
SPIEGELHALTER: Yes. I mean, it's a standard problem. It's two things that go together. It doesn't mean that one causes the other and there are
so many good examples of that and I got that. It's so funny.
AMANPOUR: Well, I saw you smile because the good example is the one that you found and we found. So this is a graphic which shows a near perfect
correlation between the age of Miss America and murders by hot steam or hot vapors and objects. I mean, crazy correlation.
SPIEGELHALTER: This is Tyler Vigan's website which is wonderful. It become very well know as generating all of these idiotic associations with
correlations with 97 percent and things like that.
AMANPOUR: So what is the lesson then from this?
SPIEGELHALTER: Oh, to be cautious about when people would make a claim that one thing is causing another. One of my favorite examples was a study
in the U.S. that says sodas cause violence. And what they did in the interview, the whole lot of teenagers, and ask, "How many sodas do you have
a week and how violent are you?" And the kids who have more sodas actually have more history of violence and they said, "Oh, the soda must be causing
And I think, "Why?" And I always, to make a joke about it, I said, "It could be the other way, after a hard day's violence, it makes you very
thirsty indeed, maybe you like a soda.
AMANPOUR: So again though this could be an issue, one of the most serious ways they can't come up that confuse the public perception.
SPIEGELHALTER: Oh, vaccines and autism, to get on the subject that, of course, is not at all contested. You have people get the vaccine, they
have the MMR vaccine at about the same time, that, kids might be diagnosed with autism.
AMANPOUR: But you know this is very serious.
SPIEGELHALTER: Very serious.
AMANPOUR: Because actually this week we've been discussing this in New York State cases.
SPIEGELHALTER: Oh, the measles outbreak, it's enormous.
AMANPOUR: Right and kids are banned from public spaces because they don't have the herd immunity, because they haven't been vaccinated.
SPIEGELHALTER: Yes. So there's an association between the age of getting the MMR vaccine and the age of which people get diagnosed with autism and
it's then turned into a causal happening.
AMANPOUR: And the President of the United States has sort of lent his support to this idea. So how dangerous is it when a leader of the of the
world does correlation and causation with that?
SPIEGELHALTER: Well, I'm not someone to lecture the leader of the world, but it is an important issue and again just to - something that you should
try to recognize when it's being done, when an association in time just like those crazy figures an association over so many years, that doesn't
mean that one thing is causing another. It's been a perfectly logic, perfectly sensible, people are not daft, I think. But, of course, their
feelings can be really manipulated by people using data.
AMANPOUR: Sir David Spiegelhalter, thank you for joining us.
SPIEGELHALTER: Thank you very much, indeed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And next we turn from uncertainty about numbers to downright resistance to cold hard facts. In his new book, dying of whiteness,
Physician Jonathan Metzl details the dire consequences of some right wing policies for the populations they claim to help. From gun control, to
healthcare, Metzl finds that some white Americans would rather die than betray the politics of their identity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CONTRIBUTOR: What is Dying of Whiteness?
METZL: Dying of Whiteness is a story about the politics that claim to make white America great again. If you're a working class white American end up
making your own life harder, sicker and shorter. I spent seven or eight years over the course of my research looking at the everyday effects of
what happens if you're a working class white American and you live in a state that had policies like cutting away healthcare and blocking the
Affordable Care Act, allowing the easy flow of guns, massive tax cuts, the defunded roads, bridges and schools.
And what I found was that those policies that were supposed to make your life great ended up from a health perspective, making your own life as
dangerous as risky as did secondhand smoke or asbestos or car crashes. These policies themselves really functioned as risks to your own health.
SREENIVASAN: So what is whiteness in the context of this book?
METZL: What I look at is really what I call a racial resentment I think to whiteness. And so what I'm tracking is a story of the ways that politics
that are anti immigrant, anti government, pro gun, kind of what are called backlash politics. They're couched in a kind of racial resentment. This
resentment that basically minorities or immigrants are taking away privileges that are due to white Americans.
What I track is the ways that those anxieties work their way into state level policies and then into national level policies.
SREENIVASAN: You're separating out that this is not because people are racist but that the policies have racist component.
METZL: I interviewed many people over seven or eight years for this book. I certainly encountered many examples of overtly racist sentiments, no
doubt about that. But ultimately what I found is that the health risk to working-class Americans came not from their individual racism or
intentions. I didn't really try to assess what's in somebody's heart. I didn't know and I think that's very complicated.
What I found was that the risk came if you live in a county, city or state that had these kind of racially anxious or racial backlash policies that
dictate your health in a way.
SREENIVASAN: These backlash policies, I mean this is a long time coming. This is not just from the election of Donald Trump or a specific event.
METZL: What we're seeing right now is that these tensions that have been brewing for quite some time, these concerns again about immigration, about
taking away people's firearms, about the over spread of government, you're absolutely right, they've been brewing since the '40s, '50s and '60s but
right now I think is a particularly urgent issue because these policies that have been localized just to either the extreme right or to particular
states, now are impacting national policy and so the implications are much broader.
SREENIVASAN: Before we get into the case studies, somebody is going to look at this and say, "Look, he is open in saying he comes from a family of
Democrats even though he interviewed all of these peoples." How do we separate your own biases coming into these interviews?
METZL: I try to be very open about my own background and not just in the book and I write about that quite a bit, but also in the people I spoke
with. And part of my intention is that I'm trying to find some kind of middle ground. In other words, here are urgent issues of life and death
and it wasn't like I made any kind of assumption that I'm on the side for wanting longer life and they wanted shorter life.
Part of what I was studying was the frameworks of whiteness, why is it hard to talk about whiteness. And so in a way that I didn't want to create this
category of us and them, but it was also an education for me. And because I learned the full extent to which people identify what these politics. So
this liberal idea that people are just going to get talked out of their support for Trump when they see particular effects, I hope my book puts
that to rest.
SREENIVASAN: Yes. Let's talk a little bit about Missouri, this is the State where you grew up in Kansas City, you got your medical degree there,
but yet you say that it's really - gun policy there is worth taking a very close look at, why?
METZL: Missouri is a very interesting example of this particular dynamic. The Missouri that I grew up and the Kansas City that I grew up in had some
- what I felt at the time and everybody felt at the time to be some quite common sense gun laws. In other words before 2007, 2008, you could carry a
gun in Kansas or Missouri. There were long histories of hunting traditions of gun ownership.
But you had to go to the sheriff's office or go through a process in order to get a particular permit. And what starts happening in 2008 is a steady
erosion of the kind of laws and regulations that govern how people buy guns, where they can carry guns, and what you see are dramatic expansions
in just rates of gun ownership in the State and that goes hand-in-hand with increasing rates of gun trauma, gun shooting, factors like that.
And I found some pretty shocking trends on one hand. Many of the people I spoke within African-American communities ironically felt that having a
bunch of people around with guns was a form of intimidation. One man I spoke with outside of Kansas City told me that an African-American, a
Vietnam vet. He told me that he didn't go to Sam's Club anymore because there were all these white guys walking down the aisles with guns as if
they were in the Wild West and he felt like they were trying to intimidate him and I heard that again and again.
On the flip side, I spoke with many white Americans. I went to very quite pro-gun areas and I talked to them and really gained an understanding of
how they saw guns as part of their identity in a way. Part of their political identity, part of their racial identity.
SREENIVASAN: You even went to, well, groups or parents of or loved ones of people who have died by suicide or talking basically group therapy
sessions, and the data that you find that correlates between the rates at which white non-Hispanics die in Missouri compared to anywhere else is
METZL: So the group I went to in Missouri was in a way support group for families who had lost children, parents, cousins, friends, boyfriends to
gun suicide. I wasn't there to be pro or anti gun. I really wanted to ask people how do you balance being pro-gun in the way that you are and also
And this seemed like an urgent moment to ask them and what I found I thought was pretty interesting, which was that it didn't really change
people's ideas about gun politics. In other words, if I had an idea that somebody at that moment was going to change their idea about guns, that was
not the case. People were just as devoted to their guns at that time.
SREENIVASAN: Even though they had lost a loved one to a death by a gun suicide, their beliefs were still steadfast.
METZL: Well, what I'm saying is that it actually mattered how I asked the question. And so if I asked them, "Did this change your view about guns?"
They would always answer me, "We're pro-gun," or, "This is gun country." So because that question implied that I was making a judgment or that I was
down there with an agenda.
If I said, "What can we do to create better safety in our communities? What can we do to have safer societies even if we have a lot of guns?" I
felt like people were much more willing to talk to me about ideas that they had. In Missouri, the minute that guns became easier to obtain, this was a
great thing for some people. They felt like it was much more freedom, much more authority. They could carry guns in public. It was their
But if you just track healthcare, Missouri starts to inch up in terms of a particular silent risk factor which is white male suicide. So all of a
sudden Missouri starts to set the graph on these kind of deaths of despair, but often rural white men who take their own lives by suicide. And so what
I found tracking Missouri is that there was a loss of hundreds of thousands of what I call lost white male life years and a dramatic, dramatic cost to
the to the State itself because the cost of not having white men working cost the State about $300 million just in the first couple of years alone.
SREENIVASAN: Let's shift to Tennessee where you work now and you live some of the time and you're talking about Tennesseans making decisions against
their own better health interests by refusing for Medicaid expansion, right?
METZL: I did focus groups along with some of my colleagues with white and black men who were middle and low-income in Tennessee. It was the profound
ways in which people's political ideology pushed them into positions where they were rejecting health care reform even if that health care reform
would have met their own needs in quite dramatic ways.
So I met a man named Trevor who was quite medically ill. He had a series of chronic medical conditions and came to the focus-group. With an oxygen
mask he was having a hard time breathing, he was having problems with his liver. He was somebody who very badly needed health and support. He was
also living in a low-income housing facility that was partially funded by the government.
And when I asked him, "Gosh, what's your feeling about the potential of healthcare reform?" He said, "Look, I know I'm dying. I know that I have
a very unhealthy lifestyle. I know that I could benefit from treatment, but I want to tell you that I'm not going to support the Affordable Care
Act because it means that my tax dollars are going to go to lazy minorities and immigrants."
And so in a way what he was saying was that his idea of this particular ideology was so profound that even on death's doorstep he was unwilling to
think about a government program that might benefit everyone. And for me what this spoke to was this bigger, bigger ideology about this concern,
this concern about somebody taking away what's mine. If you live in Tennessee and you are a white American and your State as Tennessee was
basically effectively blocked the expansion of the Affordable Care Act, you're going to live about a two to three week shorter lifespan, and so the
question is are your politics worth three weeks of life, that's probably an open debate.
SREENIVASAN: Is there an identity there that they're bonding into? I mean, is there a resistance that they feel a part of?
METZL: The issues themselves become racial identities. The minute we're talking about Obamacare or guns or tax cuts, the minute they become caught
up in the American political system right now, they become racial identities. And so it's absolutely the case that people's racial identity,
in other words this is what means to be a Republican, this is what it means to be right depended on them taking up a position in this case in Tennessee
that was against the against the Affordable Care Act.
SREENIVASAN: You took a look at Kansas and Kansas famously rolled back taxes and infrastructure funding significantly and it was a big test really
for the rest of the country that we're watching that, what happened?
METZL: Kansas was the testing ground for what became the GOP tax bill that was passed in 2016.
Kansas basically had a Governor, Sam Brownback, who enacted massive tax cuts across the State and cut away funding for roads, bridges, schools.
Including the schools that many of his supporters' children attended. The promise at the time was that this was going to create a renaissance of
prosperity. It was a renaissance of prosperity for many upper income people, but lower income people and middle income people saw steady decay
of the support systems of their lives and so they saw their infrastructure fail, roads got less attention, bridges started to fall apart.
And probably the most shocking part was that the school system, Kansas, had this fantastic school system. It used to be in the top ten in the country
and it fell to the mid 40s in terms of reading and math proficiency and also what you saw was that people started to drop out of high school. And
because these were affecting many people, actually across the board what would I show in the book is that dropping out of high school correlates
with about a seven to nine-year shorter life expectancy when you aggregate that.
SREENIVASAN: How does that work?
METZL: Well, basically if you drop out of high school, you have fewer career opportunities, fewer opportunities to access healthcare. You
probably might not have health insurance that might lead you into different kinds of decisions. And so it was actually relatively straightforward math
and the nine year life expectancy has been reproduced in other studies and I just applied that to Kansas and what I saw was that this was leading to a
dramatic decrease to potential white life years.
SREENIVASAN: But it seems the conservatives want a scapegoat, the poor, while liberals on a scapegoat, the rich.
METZL: What I did find powerful in talking to many conservative voters was I think you're exactly right that their concern was always directed
downward. In other words, people who were suffering ill health in these focus groups in Tennessee, their concerns were the people below them who
were nipping at their heels potentially -- immigrants or minorities, but they never look up. They never thought, "Gosh, maybe a corporation is
benefiting from my bad state, maybe wealthy people who receive the benefits of these particular tax cuts."
And so in a way there quite a shortage of looking upwards, whereas I think you're exactly right, the dynamic is exactly opposite, potentially for some
of the liberal politics that we're seeing right now.
SREENIVASAN: You point out that whites in specific are voting against their health interests or their biological interest, but it's pretty
bipartisan and cross-racial, I mean, Democrats do it, minorities do it.
METZL: We do it all the time. And so, again, I want to be quite clear about that this is not just a Republican thing. We make decisions that are
bad for our health all of the time. And, I mean, give it credit these policies if you want to be on the winning team, I mean probably people in
many of the areas that I talked to said, "Well, hey, buddy, were winning election so don't try to talk me out of my politics."
There's a long history of democratic initiatives from urban policies, to policies about HIV, to issues that led up to the opioid epidemic and others
that are not just linked to one particular party. So I'm not trying to say that everybody should become a Democrat in this book. Part of what I'm
saying is that these ideologies of race and inability to talk about whiteness in this country leads us to polarizing positions that make it
hard for us to work back from.
SREENIVASAN: A Republican white male that you might have interviewed in this book, for this book would say, "You know what, the reason that I'm not
taking this, I'm part of this resistance. I really firmly believe philosophically that my opposition to this matters because it will be
better for the country if the Affordable Care Act doesn't work or if there's greater access to weapons or guns."
METZL: This book is an object lesson and a lesson that I think that liberals were very slow to respond to, which was the depth of commitment
that many working-class white Americans had two particular positions even if those positions were bad to them. People were quite literally willing
to lay down on the tracks, put their own lives.
I mean, in Kansas people were willing to support tax cuts that affected their own kids' schools and I think liberals really missed that. They
missed the depth of that particular kind of commitment. And certainly for people who care about particular social issues like the courts and abortion
and factors like that, that felt like a fair trade-off for them and, again, I think that's an important point. This is a book about the depth of that
commitment to those positions.
SREENIVASAN: All right the book is called Dying of Whiteness. Jonathan Metzl, thanks so much.
METZL: Thank you so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It's really tricky that one, but that is it for us for now. Remember you can always listen to our podcast. See us online at
amanpour.com and follow me on Instagram and Twitter. Thanks for joining and goodbye from London.