Two Hundred Is Just A Number

The ethereal voice on the radio spoke thus:

The front page on such-and-such disreputable rag of a newspaper today is that two hundred women soldiers have been sent home from warzones after discovering that they are pregnant.

…with a note of incredulity in his voice (I paraphrase slightly).

It is obvious what the disreputable rag of a newspaper wants us to think about this:

Pregnant! In a warzone! Why do we allow women to become soldiers?!?

There are, in my mind, two separate questions here. Firstly, there is the issue of whether, in principle, one should allow women to become soldiers. Secondly, there is the question of whether – having decided to allow women to become soldiers – two hundred unexpected pregnancies is a small or large number.

I am sure that the disreputable rag of a newspaper holds a very strong view on the first question, and it wishes to win people to its point of view by presenting the number of two hundred warzone pregnancies as being a shocking and unacceptably high figure. And this really annoys me. It really annoys me because, without context, two hundred is just a number with no meaning.

To provide meaning for the two hundred number we need to know more information about the situation.

  • What is the rate of accidental pregnancy among female soldiers on deployment, and how does this compare to the rate of accidental pregnancy in the population as a whole?
  • What contraception is made available to female soldiers when they are on deployment?
  • At what rate are male soldiers sent home from warzones, and for what reasons?
  • How do the overall figures for male and female soldiers being sent home from warzones compare?

For some unfathomable reason I have my doubts that the disreputable rag of a newspaper will have provided this information to set the two hundred figure in context. Why is this?

It is because the disreputable rag of a newspaper has no interest in discovering the truth. Their only interest is in finding pseudo-facts that they can use as part of their rhetoric to advance their preconceived opinions. They have already decided that having women soldiers in warzones is a bad idea, but rather than argue this case for the reasons of principle that they hold it, they wish to use pseudo-facts to convince people who do not share their principles.

This is a deeply dishonest way of conducting debate.

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