Inferences can't be made

It's no secret that reporters struggle with statistics. But this story combines that problem with weak reporting on Mormonism and gay issues. And it is a doozy. This might be the most illogical and bizarre story I've read in some time. I passed it along to a few other reporters and they couldn't believe it had been published. So with that, I present's (KSAZ FOX 10 KUTP My45) "Suicide Rate Disturbingly High Among Arizona Mormons." Now, I wouldn't use the word "disturbingly" in a headline but let's just let that slide and go right to the allegation that the suicide rate for Arizona Mormons is disturbingly high. The article begins by noting that Mesa's Mormon temple kicked off its Christmas celebration on Friday night. Then, we're told, a group of gay Mormons lit candles and snuffed them out to symbolize gay Mormons who have committed suicide.

"Often times it goes to despair. They do not know what to do so they think of suicide. Arizona's suicide rate is one-third higher than national average at 16 out of 100,000. Utah where the church has its stronghold is three times the national average," says co-organizer Bobby Parker. ...

But gay current and former church members say, suicides among gay Mormons will not decline until the LDS church stops considering homosexuality a sin.

People who support the outreach program say Arizona has about 400,000 Mormons, and based on population statistics, roughly 40,000 are gay.

Utah has 3 (sic) times the national average of suicides -- a large percentage of them gay members of the church.

Arizona's suicide rate is one-third higher than the national average, and the state also has a large population of Mormons, so based on the numbers inferences can be made.

Yes, you read that right. The reporter literally wrote "inferences can be made."

OK, it is true that the suicide rate in the U.S. ranged (in 2007) from 6.1 in Washington, D.C. to 21.8 in Alaska. And most Western states have higher than average rates. Yes, Arizona's rate of 16 is a third higher than the national average of 11.5. The state ranks 8th overall.

But contrary to what this article claims, Utah does not have a suicide rate three times the national average. It ranks 15th overall, with a rate of 14.3. All this according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Where does the reporter come up with the statistic that 10 percent of Arizona's men and women are gay? No clue, although that would put the state much higher than surveys indicate -- in the low single digits.

And I have no idea where the reporter came up with the claim that "a large percentage" of these imaginary "3 (sic) times the national average" suicides are by gay people, much less gay members of the Mormon church. It goes without saying that this is something that should be quantified and cited in a news report. Yes, homosexuals have a higher suicide rate

But a reporter's job basically is never to infer, much less make inferences from made-up data. You don't even need statistics training for this one. It should be covered in Common Sense 101.

And of course the claim that Arizona's gay Mormons are offing themselves in record numbers has nothing to do with the headline that Arizona Mormons (of all sexual orientations) have a "disturbingly" high suicide rate. The fact is that we don't even know anything -- from this story, at the very least -- about Arizona Mormons' suicide rates.

This story went up on Friday and has not been retracted or corrected by editors.

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