“Asking for it”


There’s nothing like science for giving that objective, white-coat flavoured legitimacy to your prejudices, so it must have been a great day for Telegraph readers when they came across the headline “Women who dress provocatively more likely to be raped, claim scientists”. Ah, scientists. “Women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped, claim scientists at the University of Leicester.” Well there you go. Oddly, though, the title of the press release for the same research was “Promiscuous men more likely to rape”.

Normally we berate journalists for rewriting press releases. Had the Telegraph found some news?

I rang Sophia Shaw at the University of Leicester. She was surprised to have been presented as an expert scientist on the pages of the Daily Telegraph, as Sophia is an MSc student, and this is her dissertation project. It’s also not finished. “We are intending on getting it published, but my findings are very preliminary.” She was discussing her dissertation at an academic conference, when the British Psychological Society’s PR team picked it up, and put out a press release.

If I remember correctly, this article was printed quite some time ago in the Telegraph and was [rightly] heavily criticised. For a start, while masters thesis may be worthwhile pieces of work, I would always be reluctant to generalise from them in any way. Plus, the results of this particular piece of research were completely taken and reported out of context.