The sentence reads "Femicide, the homicide of women, is the leading cause of death in the United States among young African American women aged 15 to 45 years and the seventh leading cause of premature death among women overall." Kessler suggests that his conversations with Department of Justice Officials indicated that this sentence was the source of the erroneous information. Note that the sentence references a Department of Justice report.
Campbell, Jacquelyn C., Daniel Webster, Jane Koziol-McLain, Carolyn Block, Doris Campbell, Mary Ann Curry, Faye Gary, et al. “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study.” American Journal of Public Health 93, no. 7 (July 2003): 1089–97.
This leads us to our first principle: Identify the primary source. Before repeating a bit of information, be sure that it derives directly from a primary source.
How do we recognize a primary source? A lot depends on context, but for the purpose of evaluating research reports, you may consider research reports as primary sources only in relation to their stated objectives and the methods that were applied to achieve those objectives.
The purpose of the report that Holder took this quote from was not to identify the leading cause of death in African American women aged 15-45, the purpose of the report was- as its title and stated objective suggests- to identify risk factors for femicide- the killing of women- in abusive relationships. Since Holder was not making a statement about risk factors in abusive relationships, this was not the report for him to cite. The report only gave that erroneous statistic by way of background information- to show the importance of the topic- it was not the primary concern of the authors and therefore not a candidate for rigorous vetting. If a piece of information is not the main point of a report or study, it should be treated with extra caution. Holder or his staff should have dug more deeply into the basis for that quote by looking into the citation.
This brings us to Principle 2: Locate the Primary Source. Track citations. If you find an interesting bit of information in the review section of a research report, look up the source that is being cited and see if it really says what the authors say it is saying. In this case, the authors cite a 1998 Department of Justice report titled, "Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends." We can search for this on the web.
Greenfield LA, Rand MR, Craven D, et al. Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends. Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice; 1998.
Here is the report. We can try to search the document for terms related to the information we want- you can see that I did that here with the term “leading,” as in “leading causes of death-” and when that doesn’t work we may just have to scan the whole document for further clues
This CDC portal on the leading causes of death for women would be a good source to consult.
As promised, we have found the source that contradicts the information given by Holder. Homicide is not the leading cause of death for African American women, aged 15-45. On the other hand, we learn that homicide is the #2 cause of death for African American women aged 15-24. This is the statistic that as it is consistent with the primary source.
This leads us to Principle 4: Keep track of your Information. Even in this idealized format where I searched for everything ahead of time, it still took us a while to get this point. I took the time to break down this example and how it might have been properly vetted in order to make the point that research and vetting of information is a time and labor intensive process. Once you have made the painstaking effort to properly locate a piece of information you do not want to see that information get lost and that effort go to waste.
Accurate bibliographies make it much easier to keep track of the basis for factual statements and for fact-checkers to quickly locate and verify that the sources are represented correctly. In the remainder of this session, we will look closely at some software called Mendeley that makes it easy to keep track of the documents you use for research and quickly and accurately cite them. We will also look at a structured list of terms to use as tags that will help to keep the found things found.
Campbell, Jacquelyn C., Daniel Webster, Jane Koziol-McLain, Carolyn Block, Doris Campbell, Mary Ann
Curry, Faye Gary, et al. “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case
Control Study.” American Journal of Public Health 93, no. 7 (July 2003): 1089–97.
Catalano, Shannan. Intimate Partner Violence: Attributes of Victimization, 1993-2011 - ipvav9311.pdf.
U.S. Department of Justice, November 2013. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ipvav9311.pdf.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Leading Causes of Death in Females.” CDC, November 6,
“Crime in the United States 1998.” FBI. Accessed May 23, 2014. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/
Greenfeld, Lawrence, and Michael Rand. Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or
Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends. Bureau of Justice Statistics Factbook. U.S. Department of
Justice, March 1998. http://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/vi.pdf.
Kessler, Glenn. “Holder’s 2009 Claim That Intimate-Partner Homicide Is the Leading Cause of Death for
African American Women.” Washington Post, December 18, 2013.