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by Tom


Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Dateline Bunkum
Having read my four Dateline Bunkum's to date, you might be led to believe that this column is only about blatant errors in Matichon. That is, however, incorrect. The Dateline Bunkum dishonor may be bestowed on an article from any Thai newspaper that contains a statement (or statements) so egregiously and unquestionably wrong that the condemnation of it transcends all ideologies and viewpoints. You know, I'm talking about the kind of mistake that makes you wonder how the author made through college (assuming he or she did), let only became a journalist.

's hitherto monopoly of Dateline Bunkum's space shouldn't fool you into thinking that it's an exceptionally bad newspaper in Thailand. While Matichon's quality is indeed very, very poor, that is a norm rather than an exception for Thai periodicals.

This point is aptly illustrated today by the accession to the Dateline Bunkum club of the Bangkok Post -- Amnesty International's newspaper of choice.

An op-ed by Sanitsuda Ekachai -- the Post's Assistant Editor -- states:

According to the reproductive health advocacy group, Population Council, as many as 70% of women have experienced unwanted pregnancies. Forced by circumstances, almost 14 % of this number attempted to have an abortion. [emphasis added]

No need for any explanations; the flagrancy of the error speaks for itself.

I'll say something anyway, though, just in case a Post staffer is reading and, as to be expected, doesn't quite get it.

Gee, how to explain this? I mean, do you really believe that seven out of ten women have been unintentionally pregnant?

It's not clear whether Khun Sanitsuda's talking about women all over the world or just Thai women. My rebuttal will be based on world configurations but the same logic can be applied to Thailand in isolation and the same conclusion will be reached -- that Khun Sanitsuda's totally gone BONKERS.

Let's do a quick mental calculation. World population is about 6 billion, half of which is female: 3 billion. About 30% of population are under 15 and so there are about 2.1 billion women, defined as females aged 15 or over. (Go here for more precise figures; you may prefer to a higher age threshold of 18 or 20, but the resulting number wouldn't be much different.)

That means, according to Khun Sanitsuda, the number of unintended pregnancies that have occurred to this current generation is at least 2.1 x 70% = 1.5 billion -- a staggering figure that is roughly one-fourth of that for world population. ("At least" because a woman may very well have had more than one unintended pregnancy.)

What happened to all those 1,500,000,000 unwanted fetuses then? A. they were aborted and thus current world population would be 25% larger had they not been; B. they lived to become babies but died soon afterwards, all 1,500,000,000 of them; C. they live among us today and so one out of every four persons now living wasn't meant to be conceived; D. a bit of everything.

Is the world really that gloomy? Or is some journalist on crack?

And what am I doing trying to demonstrate the absurdity of this claim through interpretations when the original statement already does it best itself? "70% of women have experienced unwanted pregnancies." CRAZY, period.

And while the assertion is so blatantly wrong that it doesn't matter who is or is not the source, I did make a quick search at the Population Council website and found no such statistics.

Instead, I came across this report, which puts the percentage at 20% for Peruvian women. ("Jain found that one-fifth of the Peruvian women had had unintended pregnancies.") I can't vouch for that figure, but if it's accurate, then it should be quite representative of a significant chunk of the world, Peru being a developing and rather conservative (catholic) country. But then again, if many countries are like Peru, wouldn't the percentages in the remaining countries have to be much higher than 70 (and probably even 100) in order to pull the world average up to Khun Sanitsuda's 70%?

Like I said, CRAZY.


Khun Sanitsuda went on:

According to the Public Health Ministry, 300,000 women had abortions in 2000, most at illegal clinics or through dangerous means at home alone...[emphasis added]

Holy Baloney, common sense is really not common.

Let me make one thing clear first. Here, Khun Sanitsuda is certainly talking only about women in Thailand, not worldwide, since legal induced abortions in the US alone are about three times the quoted figure.

Time for another quick calculation: Thailand's population is about 60 million, half of which is female: 30 million, of which 300,000 is one percent. Hence, according to Khun Sanitsuda, one out of a hundred Thai females had an abortion in 2000!

Females, mind you, include everyone from my toddling niece to my 81-year-old grandmother and beyond. And Khun Sanitsuda is not claiming "only" that one percent of them have ever had an abortion, but that one percent did so in that one year!

Another way to look at it: since Thailand's 2000 birth rate was about 17 per 1,000 people, that means there were about 17/1,000 x 60 million = 1 million live births in 2000. Ignoring for simplicity's sake the possibilities of some women undergoing more than one abortion in that year (which would raise the percentage even higher), Khun Sanitsuda's 300,000 figure means that 300,000/(1,000,000+300,000) = 23% of all Thai pregnancies in 2000 were aborted.

That's one out of five, ladies and gentlemen!

Khun Sanitsuda, may I remind you that crack cocaine is illegal in Thailand?

Yet another approach to this: Khun Sanisuda clearly means her 300,000 figure to represent mostly (or even entirely) induced abortions. For comparison with a country of similar population size, the UK recorded 197,370 (185,375 + 11,995) cases of induced abortions in 2000. Are induced abortions 50% more prevalent in Thailand, where they're banned and people are more conservative, than in Britain, where they're legally available and people are more progressive? Sure, I grant that the Brits are probably much better informed about protection but, still, Khun Sanitsuda and the Bunkum Post are absolutely NUTS.

Here's the most relevant paper on the subject I found on the net. It quotes the official figure of 56,369 for abortions of all types in 1996 and reports 45,990 cases from the authors' own survey in 1999. While those numbers are almost certainly underreported, they are  likely to be much closer to the actual counts than anything dreamed up by Khun Sanitsuda.

To be fair, the 300,000 figure did indeed show up in the report, but it is for the year 1991 and is one of those unsupported guesstimates. I strongly believe it is overstated and, in any case, Thailand's induced abortion rate appears to have been falling substantially in recent years following the global trend as women's contraceptive needs are increasingly being met.


Twelve percent died as a result of complications.

It is natural that the death of Baby Apec has stirred moral indignation. But it escapes me how we can allow 36,000 women -- yes, 36,000 -- a year to die without doing anything to prevent it. [emphasis added]

It is natural that you make yet another glaring error, Khun Sanitsuda, but it escapes me how your editor... No, no surprise there, either. This is the Bunkum Post we're talking about.

Most sane people, however, would see right away that it's simply not possible for so many as 36,000 Thai women -- oh no, not 36,000 -- to die each year because of unsafe abortions.

Here's another simple calculation the Post editors are incapable of. Thailand's crude death rate is 6.86/1,000 population, which means every year there are about 6.86/1,000 x 60 million = 411,600 deaths in Thailand. Since 36,000 is roughly 9% of 411,600, Khun Sanitsuda is effectively saying that 9 out of a hundred deaths in Thailand are caused by unsafe abortions!

And even that would still be understating abortion's deadliness, if the 36,000 figure were correct. Nature being unfair, only females can get pregnant and hence only they can die from abortions. Thus that means, according to Khun Sanitsuda, unsafe abortions cause more than 18% of Thailand's female deaths or one out of five! ("More than" because annual deaths aren't split evenly between males and females -- the rate being  significantly lower for the latter.)

Are you still following, Mr. Post staffer?

Let me emphasize, Khun Sanitsuda in effect wants us to believe that at least one out of five Thai women dies of unsafe abortion. That's just INSANE. "The Newspaper You Can Trust", my foot!

Here's another approach toward the same conclusion: Take Khun Sanitsuda's 36,000 figure for unsafe abortion deaths and, without even adding all sorts of other pregnancy-related deaths (which would be dwarfed by the 36,000, anyway), compute the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) for Thailand. As our live births are about one million per year, the Sanitsuda-based MMR would be 3,600 (per 100,000 live births). That is about 88 times as large as the Malaysian figure (41), 38 times the Vietnamese one (95) and twice the world's (second) worst (1,800; Sierra Leone). Yeah, Thailand's finally No. 1! In mothers' deaths!

And now one last angle: the WHO estimates 70,000 worldwide deaths annually from unsafe abortions. Is Khun Sanitsuda suggesting that Thai women make up more than half of that? What are we, the world's abortion-death hyperpower?

One word: MAD


There are three figures in the article and all of them are fantastically erroneous. How did Khun Sanitsuda and the Bunkum Post manage that?

A Post staffer once told me most blogs are "rubbish".

 If that were indeed the case, then the Bunkum Post should start a blog for it would fit right in.

That is, however, NOT the case and the Post would stink as a blog, just as it now stinks as a newspaper.

And all this, mind you, is just about the "factual" part of this op-ed. I haven't yet  gotten to its arguments, which happen to be exceedingly imbecile, too.

Perhaps I never will. So much nonsense to counter, so little time.

update According to the Population Council's answer to my inquiry, the 70% figure is from a study of two villages in Central Thailand and is a life-time estimate. Now the life-time possibility of males in my family experiencing hair loss problems is probably 100%, but that's light-years away from saying 100% have experienced hair losses already. (I know I haven't. Knock on wood.) Now imagine leaping from that to the conclusion that 100% of Thai males are battling hair loss right now... [Previous Dateline Bunkum]

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Dem-agogues will be Dem-agogues

Did I see this coming or what? [from the BaPo]

Mr Jurin doubted the government's claim the United Nations had requested military assistance in rebuilding Iraq.

Claim? I wonder what Jurin and the story's reporters think of the claim that the earth is round.

 B  is for BEETHOVEN, BOLERO and BSO (all in one setting!)

A typical Bunkum Post editorial

Iraq is in bad need of a lasting peace

Aren't we all? The question is how to achieve that.

Extract: [print edition only]

The attack on the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad sent a chill right around the world. Was it the US-led war on Iraq that brought us to this?

Yes, we're in this predicament because of the war and we waged the war because Saddam had proved himself capable and willing to inflict much worse devastations upon humanity, not least of all the Iraqi people. Your point is?

Is it time to initiate a political process with peace as its singular objective?

A political process? Like a cease-fire negotiation with Saddam, Bathist remnants and foreign jihadis? Well, I guess we'll have to nail, um, bring them to the negotiating table first, and then I'm sure any processes will proceed smoothly.


Yada yada yada

Penultimate paragraph:

France, a staunch opponent of the war, has a point when it stresses the need to restore sovereignty to the Iraqi people as soon as possible and with its calls for a political process towards this end. With Iraq still reeling, and its people's nerves badly on edge after 23 years of war and uncertain survival, it is time to start talking with all the immediate protagonists, non-partisans and regional states involved under the chairmanship of a country free of vested interest.



Thailand must follow the political and security developments in Iraq because the country has committed 443 men and women to helping rebuild that nation. Though the contingent based in Karbala, 100km southwest of Baghdad, is safe for the time being, its members must be brought home at the first indication that this is no longer the case. [emphasis added]

What the..? Where's this coming from? How is withdrawing stabilizing forces in face danger and chaos going to contribute to "lasting peace" in anyway?

Oh, I see. The Bunkum Post editors are once again showing off their uncanny ability to conclude even the most incoherent, all-over-the place commentary with an outright non sequitur.

For more  B , please see the archives.


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