Jewish Science or Political Terrorism

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Mohamed Khodr’s Column

As a public health physician with training in epidemiology and statistics I found the timing, content, and tone of the article “How many U.S. Muslims, Our Best estimate” by Howard Feinberg and Iain Murray (Christian Science Monitor: 11/29/01) to be misleading and arrogant, especially at a time of national tragedy, war, and the reengagement of Bush in the MidEast Peace Process. To define the issue as “the Muslim Question” is brazenly racist, anti-semitic, and offensive as it harks back to Europe’s Anti-Semitism and eventual holocaust. One hopes the authors aren’t implying a similar solution for American Muslims.

Without their own independent study the authors simply regurgitated misleading information already published by Daniel Pipes, a known Anti-Islamist and Anti-Arab bigot, in the the New York Post on October 29, 2001 in his article “How Many U.S. Muslims”; where he presented the exact studies and conclusions as these authors. The Washington Post on November 24 in the article “Number of U.S. Muslims Depends on Who’s Counting” by Bill Broadway reviewed the same subject with different conclusions. The two studies in question in the three articles is one initiated and commissioned by the American Jewish Congress and the other done by the City University of New York. According to Pipes and Feinberg both studies released on October 23 and 24 concluded that American Muslims number around 1.7 – 1.8 million. Rarely do two studies using different methodologies come up with the exact number.

However according to the Washington Post, Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago, who did the study for the A.C.J. by analyzing 45 existing documents concluded that his “best survey estimate” of American Muslims was 1.9 million but allowed for a range of 1.5 million to 3.4 million. The CUNY study was based on a random telephone survey and the authors put the number of Muslims at 2.8 million. Even quoting these same studies Pipes and Feinberg deliberately underrepresented the actual numbers of Muslims in their articles concluding that the Muslim population is less than 2 million. David B. Barrett, a demographer whose staff provides annual U.S. and world religion estimates for Encyclopaedia Britannica and 20 other yearbooks, was quoted in the Post as estimating last year the U.S. Muslim population at 4.1 million. Barrett was also highly critical of the ACJ and CUNY studies expressing his reservations of the methodologies used as relying on old material or undercounting numbers.

So why would Feinberg and Murray simply reprint Daniel Pipes’ findings from a month ago? The answer is provided by Feinbetg and Murray themselves. They simply rephrased Pipes’ statement: “Why does the “militant Islamic” lobby (Council on American Islamic Relations) insist on the 6-7 million figures? Because a larger number, even if phony, offers it enhanced access and clout.” Feinberg and Murray put it this way: “Delicate policy decisions require information, but knowing how accurate that information is can be at least as important as having it at all. While a precise figure remains elusive, “2 million Muslims, give or take a few hundred thousand” appears to be America’s most accurate number – for now.” I’ve never known two statisticians to be so certain in a science dealing with uncertainty.

Thus it’s all about perceived political influence. Apparently the American Jewish Congress feeling threatened that the American Muslim population is growing rapidly and eclipsing the Jewish population wants to launch a misleading campaign to downgrade the 6-7 million American Muslim population as determined by the prestigious Hartford Institute for Religious Research that performed the population survey characterized by the Washington Post as “the Muslim portion of the largest U.S. denominational survey ever”.

Although all demographic studies have flaws and can be challenged (including the U.S. census) scientifically it is improper for an organization like Feinberg’s and Murray’s STAT to stray from its scientific focus on statistical reporting to become a political pawn of Jewish American interests. An article on its own website by the Baltimore Sun states about STAT: ” But the service struggles against perception that like so many of its targets, STATS, too, has a political agenda. Much of its funding comes from conservative foundations. Many of its statistical critiques raise questions about whether alleged health and environmental hazards are as serious as media reports claim….By taking skeptical stances on topics from needle-exchange programs to global warming, sometimes in newspaper opinion pieces, STATS has flirted with becoming one more interest group, a danger Murray says he recognizes.

The statistical service was created in 1994 by S. Robert Lichter, a political scientist who runs the parent group, the Center for Media and Public Affairs. Lichter remains president of STATS and handles all fund raising. Lichter acknowledges the rightward tilt of key backers. “The conservative foundations fund you first because they hate the media the most,” he says.” The Director of STATS, David Murray, is an anthropologist with no epidemiological or statistical training. STATS has only two research analysts on its staff, Feinberg and Murray. Additionally the Sun article reports on the criticism of STATS by a University Professor of Epidemiology, Hal Morganstern of the University of California at Los Angeles whose study of cancer deaths among California workers exposed to radiation at work was skewered by STATS, he says Murray is guilty of the same ignorance and bias of which he accuses the media. “This guy knows nothing about epidemiology, believe me,” Morganstern says. “I realize what’s behind it is a very severe political agenda.”

In reading this unscientific and politically biased article I am reminded of what Mr. Andrew Lang said in “The Harvest of a Quiet Eye” on one’s use of statistics: “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts-for support rather than illumination.” Ironically, STATS newsletter itself refutes the arrogant certainty of Feinberg and Murray’s article when it published the quote: “Statistics means never having to say you’re certain. It’s unfortunate that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict constantly spills into an unseemly competition between Jewish and Muslim Americans that prolongs the conflict rather than resolves it. Even in this case a statistician, like a terrorist, is in the eye of the beholder.

Oddly neither the American Jewish Congress nor Daniel Pipes nor Howard Feinberg alluded to the population of Jewish Americans. They’d rather not reveal that at most it’s less than five million (according to the World Jewish Congress) and dwindling fast due to intermarriages, conversions, and loss of interest. Even Daniel Pipes, the man with the pipes of hate, admits that: “The trouble is a generic one; religious organizations commonly inflate their membership to enhance their voice in the public square.”

Oddly neither the American Jewish Congress nor Daniel Pipes nor Howard Feinberg alluded to the population of Jewish Americans. They’d rather not reveal that at most it’s less than five million (according to the World Jewish Congress) and dwindling fast due to intermarriages, conversions, and loss of interest. Even Daniel Pipes, the man with the pipes of hate, admits that: “The trouble is a generic one; religious organizations commonly inflate their membership to enhance their voice in the public square.”

Related Link:

STATS:  www.stats.org

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