Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Star Trek: The Molest Generation

[Cross-posted on The Agitator.]

[Disclaimer: This post contains speculation based on wild guesses and back-of-the-envelope calculations, and therefore shouldn’t be taken too seriously.]

Last month, there was some discussion in the blogosphere about the alleged Star Trek-pedophile connection. According to an article in the L. A. Times (no longer available online), detectives in the Toronto sex crimes unit had noticed that “All but one of the [over 100] offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core Trekkie.”

So, what does this tell us about Star Trek fans? Jokes aside, most commentators have emphasized what it doesn’t tell us. Even if all pedophiles were Trek fans, we could not logically conclude that all Trek fans are pedophiles. Said the article’s original author, “It is important to note that they are not saying that every Star Trek fan is a pedophile -- just that it was a surprisingly common element among those they had arrested.”

But that’s needlessly all-or-nothing thinking. We can’t say anything with certainty about Trek fans’ sexual tendencies, but we can make judgments of probability. The question is this: Given that someone is a hard-core Trek fan, what is the probability that he is a pedophile?

We can address this question through an application of Bayes’ Rule. We also need some other statistics: the percentage of the whole population who are pedophiles, and the percentage of the non-pedophiles who are Trek fans. These are both rather difficult to estimate.

I couldn’t find an estimate of what fraction of the public is pedophile; no one wants to commit to a figure. But based on the number of men surveyed who say they were sexually abused in their youth (about 16%) and the average number of victims per sexual abuser (about 100 victims each, according to a website I can’t find anymore), we can guess that about 0.08% of people are sexual abusers of male children. Doing the same with numbers for female victims (27% of women sexually abused in youth, 20 victims per abuser), about 0.675% of people are sexual abusers of female children. Assuming the two groups don’t overlap, we can figure 0.755% of people is a sexual abuser of children. Allowing for some overlap, I’ll round down to 0.5%, or one person in 200. I will call these people “pedophiles.” [UPDATE: I realized later that I've assumed an impossible amount of overlap, so the pedophile-percentage should be larger. That would result in an even bigger estimate of the probability a Trek fan is a pedophile.] (Lots of assumptions are built into these calculations, so take them with a grain of salt.)

So what about the fraction of the non-pedophiles who are Trek fans? This one’s even more difficult to estimate. We can approximate it with the fraction of general public who are Trek fans (since pedophiles are so rare). As many as 50% of Americans claim to be Trek fans – but we’re not interested in just run-of-the-mill fans; we need the kind of fans who would have Trek paraphernalia in their homes for detectives to discover. I’m going to make a wild stab and say 1%. That’s probably too high. But assuming a large number here will give us a conservative estimate of the probability that a Trek fan is a pedophile.

Now for the calculations. Say we have a population of 100,000 people. Of those people, 99,500 are normal and 500 pedophiles. Since 1% of the normals are Trek fans, we have 995 normal Trek fans. Since 99% of pedophiles are Trek fans (according to the Toronto detectives), we have 495 pedophile Trek fans. So the fraction of all Trek fans who are pedophiles is 495 / [495 + 9950] = 0.332. That is, almost a third of hard-core Trek fans are pedophiles!

Now, just to be clear, there’s still a 67% chance your Trekker neighbor is perfectly normal (in the sense of not molesting kids). On the other hand, 33% is 66 times larger than the chance a non-Trekker is a pedophile. If it makes you feel any better, keep in mind that we’re only taking about hard-core Trekkers here.

My calculations are highly sensitive to the assumptions, particularly the percent of the general public who are pedophiles. If you’d like to redo the calculations using your own assumptions, here’s the formula:
ac / [ac + (1 - a)b]
where a = fraction of general public who are pedophiles; b = fraction of the non-pedophile public who are Trek fans; and c = fraction of pedophiles who are Trek fans. My calculations assumed a = 0.005, b = 0.01, and c = 0.99.

I welcome corrections to my calculations, since I’d rather not be suspicious of my Trek-loving friends.


Z said...

Glen, I think there is a factor you aren't considering, but I admit, it's a guess/assumption: At least in some juristictions, most, if not all, pedophile arrests today come as a result of sting operations where officers pose as teens in chat rooms, arrange meetings with people they meet online, and arrest their "pen pals" when they show up to the meeting.

If you accept this, then the building blocks of your assesment must be changed. First, chat room afficionados are largely technophiles, which I think we could stipulate, would skew to Trekkies pretty heavily. Second, I think we could agree that hard-core Trekkies would also tip the scale toward the socially underperforming. This group, we could further reason, is more likely to seek cyberhookups (given real life ones are largely off the table) and further, have a certain social desperation pushing them to inapropriately expand their option pool.

I would therefore offer that rather than concluding Trekkies are predisposed to pedophilia, we should consider Trekkie pedophiles are predisposed to getting caught.

Plus they're weird.

Blar said...

I don't see on what basis you're estimating the percentage of non-pedophiles who are Trekkies. Since people's pedophile-identity is relatively private, it seems that you would be in a much better position to estimate the percentage of all people (or all adult males) who are Trekkies. This would also simplify the calculation, since if there are q Trekkies and p pedophiles out of every 100,000 people, and (almost) all pedophiles are Trekkies, then the proportion of Trekkies who are pedophiles is (almost) p/q.

That number of Trekkies, q, is still difficult to estimate, largely because the articles are so vague about what level of Star Trek fanhood is necessary to qualify as a Trekkie. They give a few anecdotes of hard-core fans with weird Trekkie paraphrenalia, but there are some suggestions that milder types of fanhood (e.g. owning at least one Star Trek video) qualify. Combined with Z's objection about the non-random sampling procedure, this suggests that your precision is highly misleading and your result is likely an overestimate of the percentage of Trekkies who are pedophiles. So you can have some more faith in your Trek-loving friends, and don't put too much stock in the Trekophile connection until they come out with some more carefully collected data.

Sherm said...

Plus there's the fact that the vast majority of pedophiles commit crimes against children that they are either related to or know personally in some other way. In much the same way that a woman probably won't wind up being raped by the shifty guy in the bushes, a child probably won't be molested by the person that they meet in a chatroom. It's just a helluva lot easier for a parent to worry about that than it is to realize that the uncle who nobody wants to turn in is the real threat.

Lee said...

I thought this was debunked shortly after it was released.

Glen Whitman said...

Z -- Your first point (about non-random sting operations) is very well taken, and is one of many reasons my calculations here shouldn't be taken too seriously. On the other hand, your second point (about socially-maladjusted people) strengthens the case for a Trek-ped connection. Indeed, that's probably the causal explanation behind the correlation.

Blar -- Actually, I *did* estimate the percentage of non-pedophiles who are Trekkies by using the percentage of the population as a whole. As I said in the post, "We can approximate it with the fraction of general public who are Trek fans (since pedophiles are so rare)." You are right, of course, that it would be silly to reach strong conclusions without better data -- hence the disclaimer at the top of the post. However, the formula provided at the bottom allows you to pick whatever assumptions you want.

Glen Whitman said...

Lee -- It was quasi-debunked. The detectives admitted that 99% figure was probably an exaggeration, but they stuck by the claim that a surprisingly large number of their perps were Trek fans. Follow the links at the top of the post for more. If you want to see what happens estimates lower than 99%, just plug them in the formula at the bottom.

Blar said...

Glen, if Trekkies are almost as rare as pedophiles and the overlap between the two groups is large, then you cannot estimate the fraction of non-pedophiles who are Trekkies with the fraction of general public who are Trekkies. IF 1% of non-pedophiles are Trekkies, you get that about 1/3 of Trekkies are pedophiles. But with 1% of the general public Trekkies, that fraction increases by 50%, all the way up to 1/2.

You could estimate the fraction of the general public who are Trek fans, calculate the percent of non-pedophiles who are Trek fans (instead of approximating it poorly), and then apply Bayes' rule, but the answer would simplify to the formula I suggested earlier, c(p/q), where c is as you defined it and p & q are as I defined them.

Theresa said...

...pedophile arrests today come as a result of sting operations where officers pose as teens in chat rooms, arrange meetings with people they meet online, and arrest their "pen pals" when they show up to the meeting....

...chat room afficionados are largely technophiles, which I think we could stipulate, would skew to Trekkies pretty heavily....

I think this is exactly what's going on in this case. From the original L.A. Times article:

Gillespie has a team of 10 men and six women who spend hours in front of their computers, extracting leads, writing warrants and sifting photos for clues.

Sitting in front of two computers in a blue suit and gold tie, Det. Constable Paul Krawczyk starts the day as a 13-year-old girl. Within minutes of his entering a chat room on education, and without asking for them, men are e-mailing nude pictures. "It's always the same," he says. "After two minutes, here come the body parts."

Sometimes, he can set up a meeting with a likely offender within half an hour; others take months to be drawn out....

The article even refers to their suspects as "Internet-savvy" >>

Internet-savvy pedophiles have managed to stay ahead of investigators by using private networks, file-sharing software and surfing anonymously on public wireless systems....

And, it looks like the majority of their arrests are of suspects found online:

Of the unit's 37 arrests last year, 26 resulted from their undercover work.

BTW - it wasn't just Trekkies that some of these guys mentioned >>

Krawczyk says that after three arrests of Boy Scout leaders in Canada in the last six months, he won't let his son join the local troop.

Glen Whitman said...

Blar -- Okay, I see your point now. You're right. So I wonder what fraction of the non-pedophile public are Trek fans? That's the number I need. Of course, I totally made up the 1% figure for Trek fans in the general public, so I can just as easily make the same unfounded assumption for the non-pedophile public.

As I said from the beginning, none of this was meant to be taken too seriously. But if there's anything serious to be gotten from it, it's that Bayes' Rule supplants the all-or-nothing logic of (A --> B) =/=> (B --> A).

Anonymous said...

What constitutes a Trekkie? Someone who has seen, say more than 10 episodes and all the movies? Someone who has bought at least one pair of Spock ears? Someone who owns at least 2 Star Trek DVDs? Well, bear with me...

A well know fact is that 99% of all pedophiles are males. That eliminates 50% of the worlds population. Assuming the latest U.S. census is correct, there are 450 million people in the USA. Half are women, therfore, 220 million are male.

The average males lives to age 65, I think. Assuming a relatively linear birthrate, we can reduce potential pedophiles by eliminating males younger than 18 years of age by multiplying the 220 million males by (65-18)/65 = 169 million.

Let me also assume most males over, say 55, can't catch the little twerps, so we can reduce by another 10/65 to give us 125 million males that are between 18 and 55.

Now, how many of these 125 million U.S. males do you think have never seen Star Trek? Maybe 5, hehe.

How many of these males have seen more than 10 episodes and all the movies? More than half, hehe!

So, are all males Trekkies? Pretty much!

Where is this leading, you ask? Nowhere! Just like the post.

Anonymous said...

One more thing. Women who molest young boys are not called pedophiles. They are called "Mary Kay Laterno". These special pedophiles actually marry their victims when they get out of jail!