Because we've been spending all our time moving boxes around as we unpack all our stuff and paint the new house, I haven't been as diligent about reading my newsmagazines as I should. I finally got around to reading the September 20, 2004 issue of Time
; in it, I found an interview with John Kerry. One of his answers just jumped right out at me as not making any sense at all. The article
is available on the Time
website archives (entire article only available to those with premium access; link is to preview only). The entire article
is available here, but I'm not sure how long it will last.
In response to a question about how he would go about winning the war of ideas in the Middle East, Senator Kerry offered some good suggestions, although I guess I'm not nuanced enough to see how they really differ from what President Bush has been trying to do. (Ann Althouse critiqued the Senator's response to the question here
.) Senator Kerry then throws out this statistic: "You have almost 60% of the populations of Egypt and Saudi Arabia under 30, and 50% under 18."
This does not make sense. Fifty percent of the populations in one 18 year large cohort, and less than 10% in the next older 12 year group? What do they think this is, France in 1936? Think about it... for this to be true, you'd need to have to have 5 times more 0-17 year olds than 18-29. Can this be possible? Well, statisically speaking, the 0-17 year old group encompasses 6 more years than the 18-29s, so that would be a factor of 1.5. Also, there is more mortality each year, and I imagine quite a bit of emigration. But even assuming about 10% excess mortality by the older group (a very liberal assumption), that still means we have about 3 times more people born each year in the last 18 years than in the previous 12 years. (Math check: 5 divided by 1.5 equals 3.3; 3.3 times 0.9 is approximately 3. Checks!)
Once again, this does not make sense. Has the birth rate gone up in the Middle East? Yes. By that much? Don't think so... let's do a little research, shall we? (I'm not a professional journalist, of course, so my results probably won't be up to the fact-checking standards of Time
Wait! A quick Google search under Saudi Arabia age demographics
leads us to nationmaster.com
, which seems to have some fairly reliable sources. It has an age pyramid for Saudi Arabia
, which, for 2003, seems to show about 13 million Saudis under age 20 and about 3.5 million between 20 and 29. This, rather than being 5 times as high, is actually just under 4 times as high. For Egypt, the age pyramid for 2003
shows similar numbers; about 31.3 million under age 20, and about 13 million ages 20-29; this is only a multiple of 2.5.
Now, without even having to add up the rest of the numbers, I can see the statistic is wrong. Not that it takes away from Senator Kerry's point, however... (I think that these countries do have about 60% of the population under 25). But, if you're running for President, and you're going to use statistics, why not use the right ones?
Conclusion: Senator Kerry threw out a statistic that doesn't stand even the slightest scrutiny, and neither the interviewer or the editors apparently gave it a second thought. I wonder if they would have been so glib if President Bush had made a similar mistake?