Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Plural of Anecdote is not Data

If you met Saori Kimura you would immediately notice that she is a very tall girl. In fact at 6’1” she is the tallest player in the Japanese women’s volleyball team. In indeed she, and her team-mates were the only Japanese people you had ever met, you would think the Japanese were on average a very tall race.

The problem is that if you tried to generalise from Saori Kimura to the rest of the population of Japan in terms of height you would be wrong. Even without heels, when I travel on the Tokyo Metro at rush-hour, there are very few men or women who come to anything higher than chin level on me, and when I wear heels, they are mostly staring at my arm-pits. Indeed it is one of the most remarkable things about using the public transport system, compared to London; suddenly I am head and shoulders above almost everyone in the train. And I am only 5’7” tall.

So if you had met Saori and you went around telling everyone that the Japanese were very tall people you would be either lying or stupid.

Yet this is what Julie Bindel has been doing for a long time when it comes to trans people. On her Facebook page she refers to a blog in which an unknown women’s group is taken over by a small number on unknown transwomen, who, because of their supposedly louder voices and more aggressive nature, come to dominate and eventually exclude the other women. The implication from this is that all transwomen who join women’s-only spaces will dominate them and take over.

Julie is a unfortunately a serial offender when it comes to doing this; she finds one example of a trans person behaving in a way she disapproves and then appears to generalise it to the entire population of trans people. The problem is that, in the case of Saori Kimura it is very easy to show that anyone saying “because Saori is tall all Japanese people are tall”. You don’t have to travel very far from Narita Airport to realise that. When Julie Bindel stereotypes transwomen in this way; “All transwomen are more aggressive and take over women’s-only spaces.” It is much harder to prove her wrong.

As such the onus should be on her to provide accurate and reliable data on the extent of what she is implying happens. Of course she has not done this because the plural of anecdote is not data. You will always be able to find one or two examples of what you want to prove, whether it is tall Japanese women or short Kenyans. But generalising from a very small number of examples is either dishonest or stupid.


  1. You're assuming a lot of logic from here. Sometimes, she complains that trans women insufficiently conform to female stereotypes and are too loud and assertive. Other times, she complains that, like the cast of Grease, trans women conform overly to such stereotypes. There is no way you can win. If you're passive, then you're a dupe. If you're active, then you're an invader. In both cases, you're hurting cis women terribly, somehow.

    There is no way a trans person can win in these things because transphobes will just change the terms under which they're judging. Whatever you're doing, it's wrong. It's like Bindel and others just absorbed all the anti-woman, anti-lesbian hate they got from bigots and instead of fighting it, looked for somebody else to regurgitate it on to.

  2. Great comment Les! You are absolutely right.