Activism or Journalism? Debunking Tim Pool's Attacks on #MeToo.
“If you can’t prove what you want to prove, demonstrate something else and pretend that they are the same thing.” ― Darrell Huff, How to Lie With Statistics
“Tim Pool would fail a primary school level of critical thinking.” - My friend reading the draft of this post
In 1954 the journalist Darrell Huff published How to Lie with Statistics a mass-market book that became a best selling statistical text in America. In the book, Huff exposes how we are all fooled by misleading statistics and how to guard against falling for lies.
In 2019, Tim Pool, once a groundbreaking journalist and now a centrist armchair political commentator on Youtube who has millions of views and uploads dozens of videos a week said in a video that he’s “very much focused on how the media manipulates.”
Given these facts, you might imagine that both men have a lot in common, and you’d be right. Both of them cast aside all their noble intentions to chase self-enrichment: Huff, when he agreed to write a book,* obfuscating the link between smoking and cancer for the tobacco industry, and Pool when he sold out to his braying rightwing fans to push a hyped up and misleading culture war narrative.
I think it is only fair if I start off this post by putting my bias out there. It is my opinion that Tim Pool is lazy and biased political pundit who cares more about furthering his narratives than promoting the truth. I will be going through and debunking one of his videos, and you might just walk away with the same conclusion at the end, but let’s get to the facts.
Let the Games Begin
Three days ago Pool published a Youtube video titled “MeToo Backlash? Men REFUSE To Save Women’s Lives Over Fear Of False Accusations” on his commentary channel. Unsurprisingly this title is clickbait and it doesn’t get much better. Pool begins the video by saying:
In this story from the Daily Mail, we’re learning that women are more likely to die of a heart attack for a rather crazy reason: men are less likely to perform CPR on women over fears of being accused of #MeToo if you know what I mean.
This statement is unsupported by both the Daily Mail article Pool quotes from as well as the underlying data the article is about. On top of that for a man who rails against media manipulation, Pool could hardly have chosen a worse source for his story. Even leaving aside all its racist, dangerous, and hateful rhetoric, the Daily Mail is also so well known for wildly misleading headlines (and stories!) that at least one fake Daily Mail headline generator exists.
That said, as is common among the commentary and bullshit merchants I have previously covered Pool doesn’t cite his source in the video’s description (although he does mention it in the video). Personally, I think this is an incredibly lazy move given that it would take literally 10 extra seconds.** ( I suspect that for some of these online mountebanks providing a source is such a supreme evil because by linking a source they run the risk of someone deciding to fact check them).
The Daily Mail story Pool uses as the jumping off point for his narrative is titled “Women are more likely to die if they have a cardiac arrest in public ‘because people fear performing CPR on them could be seen as sexual assault.” Like Pools assertions about the article, this headline is also misleading as I’ll explain below.
The science paper the Daily Mail story is based on appeared in the very reputable European Heart Journal and was titled “Women have lower chances than men to be resuscitated and survive out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.”
Some Heartfelt Facts (which don’t care about your feelings)
The above paper is based on extensive Dutch data from 2006 to 2012, looking at health outcomes following an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA). In other words, the data is from far before #MeToo became a thing so can hardly be viewed as a result of it (as Pool initially implies).
The paper’s conclusion reads:
In case of OHCA, women are less often resuscitated by bystanders than men. When resuscitation is attempted, women have lower survival rates at each successive stage of care. These sex gaps are likely explained by lower rate of SIR [shockable initial rhythm] in women, which can only partly be explained by resuscitation characteristics.
The real story here isn’t that bystanders are less likely to give women CPR because they’re worried about being accused of sexual assault it is that women have worse outcomes after a cardiac arrest, but that doesn’t sell papers or earn Tim Pool ad revenue. Let’s take a closer look at the paper, though.
The key results for the context of this post were that:
“Women with OHCA were less likely than men to receive a resuscitation attempt by a bystander (67.9% vs. 72.7%; P < 0.001), even when OHCA was witnessed (69.2% vs. 73.9%; P < 0.001).” ***
So, to put that into plain English: women are 4.7-4.8% less likely to have CPR performed on them by bystanders than men. Nowhere in the paper does it provide the genders of the bystanders, or their reasons for not performing CPR on women.
The authors do provide some potential explanations for these results including that bystanders may not be aware that women experience cardiac arrests as often as men and that women tend to experience less “typical” symptoms (for example fatigue and vomiting) while men often present with chest pain. The authors also explain that women have a higher life expectancy than men, which results in them having cardiac arrests at an older age.
Nowhere in the paper is there any reference to men being worried about being accused of sexual assault.
Extrapolating from Incomplete Data.
Given what we now know, let’s return to the claim Pool opens his video with:
In this story from the Daily Mail, we’re learning that women are more likely to die of a heart attack for a rather crazy reason: men are less likely to perform CPR on women over fears of being accused of #MeToo if you know what I mean.
Based on what we know so far we know his claim that women are more likely to die of a heart attack is valid, however, we have no evidence as to whether men are less likely to perform CPR and we’ve already debunked the claim that this has anything to do with #MeToo.
So where does Pool get his claim about men fearing that they’ll get # MeToo’d from? It’s from the Mail article which quotes Dr Sarah Perman, an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. It’s important to note that she was not involved with the original paper. However, Perman told the Mail that:
similar studies have shown that there is ‘over sexualisation of women’s bodies’.
many [sic] ‘feel hesitant to provide CPR if there is a notion they are doing something incorrect that was perceived to be sexual assault or harassment’.
people are more likely to think a woman has just fainted, and many have a ‘fear of causing injury because women are more frail’.
So let’s examine those claims, shall we? As far as I can tell they’re based at least in part on research that Perman was involved with.
In 2018 Perman presented a poster presentation to the American Heart Association Meeting. Her team of researchers had:
asked 54 people online to explain, with no word limit, why women might be less likely to get CPR when they collapse in public.
The research team then identified four themes from the responses as to why bystanders may be less likely to provide CPR to women. These were:
Potentially inappropriate touching or exposure;
Fear of being accused of sexual assault;
Fear of causing physical injury;
Poor recognition of women in cardiac arrest—specifically a perception that women are less likely to have heart problems, or may be overdramatizing or “faking” an incident; or
The misconception that breasts make CPR more challenging.
If I were a feminist version of Tim Pool I might note that the fact that women are assumed to be “faking” or “overdramatizing” incidents when they’re having a heart attack is an example of deep-rooted misogyny in our society. However, unlike Pool, I believe in waiting for full data so won’t draw any conclusions yet.
The press release about the poster adds:
Worries about accusations of sexual assault or inappropriate touching were cited twice as many times by men as by women, while more women mentioned fear of causing injury. Although the study was too small to discern definite trends, these concerns may represent an important challenge in public health messaging.
The release also notes that the researchers will be conducting a more complete study at a later date.
This research is certainly interesting but has several flaws.
It has a tiny sample size, and therefore no definite trends could be discerned (as the press release itself says).
It is unclear what the question was, but if it was “Why might women be less likely to get CPR when they collapse in public?” (as the press release hints at) then this leaves the possibility that the respondents were just offering hypothetical possible reasons rather than what they themselves think.
No numbers/percentages are included in the release, so it is impossible to know if 1% or 100% of the men said they feared “being accused of sexual assault.”
The release notes that “The pool of responders was about 60 per cent male and 85 per cent Caucasian.” This is not particularly representative of the total population.
No information is given as to how the researchers “identified” the themes.
In conclusion: as a preliminary study, this is interesting but doesn’t provide enough (or really any) data about the percentage of men who hesitate to perform CPR because of fears of being accused of sexual assault.
So what proportion of men don’t perform CPR on women because they’re worried about being accused of a sexual assault?
It’s definitely less than 4.8% (as per the Dutch study). Seeing we don’t have any concrete numbers we’ll just have to guess. Additionally given that we’ve established that there are many reasons women are less likely to receive CPR the true number of men who hesitate to give women CPR because of fears of getting accused of a sexual assault might be substantially lower than 4.8%. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that it’s in the region of 1-2.5% based on the information we available to us.
If that is something we can agree on then I fail to see how “1 to 2.5% of men are worried about giving women CPR” is really worth getting concerned over unless you’re in the business of pushing an anti-#MeToo narrative, which Tim Pool definitely is.
In an effort to steel man Pools position it is important to note that in his video he admits that a) “it’s not just that they’re scared of a potential #MeToo incident” and b) that the data may go back to before #MeToo. Even though he admits these things he continues to frame the video, its title, his introduction, and his concluding thoughts on the premise that fears of being accused of sexual harassment are one of the main reasons why women are less likely to be given CPR by bystanders.
I Don’t Think Your Data is Supposed To Bend That Way
So, let’s go back to my original claim that Pool is a lazy and biased political pundit who cares more about furthering his narratives than promoting the truth. I think so far we have some evidence that he is lazy and biased, and that he is happy manipulating the truth to push an agenda, but I don’t think we’ve fully established that so let us carry on.
About one minute into his video (just before a lengthy ad read) Pool points us to a video he made last year called “Why Men Are Refusing To Help Women and Children.” This video is meant to provide further evidence that men are refusing to help women and children because of a climate of fear of being accused of impropriety. So I went and watched that video.
Once again Pool doesn’t provide any sources in the video’s description. That aside in the video he seeks to answer whether men are now less likely to help women and children and why. Go watch the video yourself if you want but to spoil it: Pool presents no peer-reviewed data looking into either of those questions but instead relies on a handful of news stories spread across three continents (and one very shoddy poll).
Pool begins the video by reading a story from the Daily Mail (again) about a woman who is angry that two’ white middle-class men’ refused to help her as she was attacked by another man on a train. Pool then asks why the two men refused to help, and says he thinks it’s because of “a trend or at least a perception of a trend of those who seek to help others being punished for doing so.”
Pool then spends the next few minutes trying to prove that a perception of this trend exists. The first case Pool looks at is a story from the UK reported in the Daily Telegraph from 2014 when a man named Carl Neale was charged with grievous bodily harm and sentenced to six years in jail after punching a drug dealer who was attacking a woman. Except that’s a bit misleading. Neale floored the drug dealer with one punch and then delivered a second punch while the dealer was down. These two punches caused the dealer serious injuries and he required extensive surgery to recover. The second, unnecessary punch likely played a part in Neale’s charge of grievous bodily harm. However, Neale wasn’t sentenced to six years solely on this charge, he was also sentenced for:
offences of dangerous driving, assault with intent to resist arrest and driving whilst disqualified committed last January; and attempted burglary, aggravated vehicle taking and driving whilst disqualified committed last August.
Whether Neale should have been charged for the assault is a fair question, but this case involved many other factors. Something Pool in fact acknowledged but apparently, that wasn’t enough for him to decide to leave the example out.
The second article Pool examines is a 2018 story from the US reported on 11Alive.com where a retired fire chief was arrested after he refused to move his vehicle after helping a non-breathing and non-responsive casualty who had overturned in her car. The details of the case are conflicted with the retired fire chief and police offering differing versions of the story. Either way, the fire chief was later released without charge and his initial arrest was not for helping the women but for obstruction.
The third article Pool covers is a 2017 story from the Washington Post in which a man tried to help a lost toddler but was assaulted and later doxxed because the child’s father believed the man had tried to abduct the child. This is clearly a sad story but the father’s initial reaction is understandable as a bystander had told him the man was attempting to kidnap his child. Doxxing the man and making him fear for his safety after the event is obviously something that should be condemned - and it was by the local police and commenters on social media. Once more, this is just one story with conflicting reports, it is an anecdote. It is not data.
Tim Pool then goes back to talking about the initial incident that he started the video with (the one where the woman was angry that two men did not intervene when she was attacked). He links the men’s refusal to help to the three case studies he presented despite it being exceedingly unlikely that either of the men in that story had read at least two of the three stories Pool had mentioned. A more likely explanation for their reticence to intervene is simply that they were scared of confrontation and were worried they’d come to harm. But this is not the answer Pool goes with because that doesn’t fit the narrative he is trying to push.
Pool concludes his video with two more stories.
The first is a 2014 story from Australia appearing on the website news.com.au titled “Most men are reluctant to help lost kids, worried they will be called a ‘pervert’, new research shows.” The story reports a survey which found “23 per cent of fathers would shy away from assisting a child in need, because they might be perceived as having suspect motives.”
On closer examination, this story becomes very suspect due to the fact the online poll it cites was commissioned by a company which sells a “GPS tracking device for children” and therefore would benefit from these findings. This is not peer-reviewed research, it is an online poll created to help market a product. The fact that Pool regurgitates this story without critical examination shows that for all his claims of being better than mainstream journalists he still falls for all the same traps.
Finally, Pool cites a 2018 story from the Daily Telegraph where a 78-year-old pensioner was arrested on suspicion of murder after stabbing a burglar to death. What Pool conveniently leaves out is that the man was quickly released without charge after the story became clear.
And as the excellent author and blogger, The Secret Barrister wrote in the aftermath of the case:
It is worth remembering that the police have a legal duty to investigate cases where there has been a loss of life. Part of the investigation may involve arresting a suspect so that they can be interviewed.
Whether an arrest is necessary in a given case – as opposed to inviting a suspect in for an interview – depends on whether certain statutory factors have been satisfied. But on its face, there is little unusual in the police arresting somebody suspected of killing another person.
After this Pool continues:
People are increasingly worried about even defending themselves in parts of the world and people are reluctant to help children and women in the instance of violence because it is possible they will be charged for it.
But remember he has presented no good proof for the second claim (that people are afraid to help children) and no proof at all for the claims that people are scared to defend themselves and that people are scared to defend women. Pool has presented a bunch of anecdotes and then drawn an entirely separate conclusion in the hope that his audience doesn’t notice that he hasn’t actually shown how those anecdotes support his conclusion. It’s a clever trick but it’s also an obvious one if you’re watching his videos critically.
Pool ends the video by saying that you’re actually more likely to be rewarded for doing a good deed but that there are too many bad stories about what happens if you do intervene that it might put people off in the future - which once again he has provided little to no evidence for.
To summarise this section: once again Pool has manipulated the issues and stories involved and looked at them through a biased lens to further his narrative. He leaves out crucial facts which would help his audience reach their own conclusions and doesn’t source anything. But let’s return to his original video about cardiac arrests because unfortunately there is still more that needs to be addressed.
Won’t Anyone Think of the Men!?
Back to Pools initial video about cardiac arrests again. He continues to discuss why men might hesitate to help women and brings up a case where a man helped a woman change a tire and was later falsely accused of rape.
As you probably expect by now the story is a little bit more complicated than that. The man did end up in jail and the false accusation is disgusting because not only did it harm the man it also harms future victims. That said, it seems clear that the woman was suffering from some sort of mental issue and will be undergoing a psychological evaluation prior to sentencing. It must also be noted that however terrible this case may be, false rape accusations are incredibly rare.
Finally, Pool brings up another of his videos after claiming that “60% of men are uncomfortable with women in work settings and social events.” This video is from May 19, 2019, and is titled “#MeToo Backlash Keeps Getting WORSE As MORE Men Won’t Work With Women.” Unsurprisingly it is misleading.
Pool begins the video citing something that Jordan Peterson said about men and women not being able to work together. Pool then moves to covering a story in Glamour which cites a press release from LeanIn, which cites a survey from SurveyMonkey that it had sponsored.
Like a game of telephone, the actual facts from the survey and the “facts” that Tim Pool cites are not the exactly same. Also, once again bear in mind that LeanIn benefits from this (online) survey because they can offer help in changing office dynamics and raise their profile based on its results.
The LeanIn page about the survey says “60% of managers who are men are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together.” Naturally, this was reported uncritically by Glamour and then later Pool.
The 60% figure doesn’t appear at all in the actual raw data. Instead, it appears to be based on the question “Following these highly publicized reports [regarding #MeToo], which, if any, of the following activities, make you uncomfortable? (Select all that apply.)” The respondents were then presented with several options to choose from including “Traveling with a woman for work” and “Socializing with a woman from work alone outside of work (e.g., in a restaurant, hotel.” None of these choices were selected by 60% of men or male managers, however, at least 60% picked one of the options. That said no scale of ‘uncomfortableness’ was provided so a man might feel only a tiny bit more cautious or have a crippling fear of the situation and there would be no way to distinguish these.
It’s also important to note that 39% of the male managers who were asked that question and 49% of males in general, answered that they would not feel uncomfortable in any of the listed situations.
The things men were most uncomfortable doing with women were socializing with them alone outside of work (48%) and travelling with them for work (30%). The first is not a common work activity (at least not in the way Pool was using that definition in his video) and the second is likely highly context dependent.
Oh and for the question of whether a man would be comfortable mentoring a woman at work only 13% of managers said this would make them uncomfortable so the media’s framing of this story was definitely off.
All of this brings to mind some advice in Darrell Huff’s book How to Lie with Statistics (remember from right at the start?) where he says that just because an article has “statistics from a reputable source to go with it” doesn’t mean the statistics necessarily “back it up.” Huff also said that “many a statistic is false on its face. It gets by only because the magic of numbers brings about a suspension of common sense.” Pool et al., have suspended their common sense to chase a misleading story.
Pool paints the story as demonstrating that men and women might not be able to work together. This ignores that the raw data shows that only 9% of male managers actually stopped mentoring women following #MeToo and that only 34% of male managers stopped “Socializing with a woman from work alone outside of work (e.g., in a restaurant, hotel)." Meanwhile, 53% of male managers and 65% of men in general, didn’t stop doing any of the activities being asked about since #MeToo. I hardly think that 34% of male managers deciding not to hang out with women alone outside of work is as devastating a blow as Pool and the rest are painting it as.
Obviously, work needs to be done to address inequalities in the workplace and perhaps #MeToo has had some impacts on working relations but it is too early to say if those results are permanent and if they’ll end up being good or bad.
Pool concludes that overall men and women can work together on a small scale but doesn’t believe they can in larger companies. He then pulls up the raw SurveyMonkey data I’ve discussed above. It is unclear if he realises that this data is exactly what he was discussing before because he scrolls through listing off some points but doesn’t actually check the 60% stat we’ve discussed.
So where does that leave us? Well for a third time Pool has not bothered to dig into the stories he is covering regurgitating another persons work uncritically. It took me 5 minutes to fact check the story but it appears Pool hardly spent any time on that opting instead just to read what he saw in front of him. That makes him lazy and it shows truth isn’t important to him as long as it confirms his bias.
In conclusion, it is clear from the three related videos that I broke down today that Pool has a narrative to push. He wants to convince his audience that #MeToo has caused major problems, that because of #MeToo relations between men and women have been damaged, and finally that men now fear helping women because they’re worried about getting punished for it. This narrative blends in perfectly with rightwing talking points and furthers the conservative cause.
My post has shown why this narrative is either flawed or even wholly unsupported and has demonstrated that Pool’s fact-checking abilities are severely lacking when it comes to topics that benefit the right.
Pool claims to dislike media manipulation and frequently derides the media and journalists for having become “activists” yet as I have shown, he engages in precisely the same behaviour. He misrepresents, he misleads, and he pulls together disparate edge cases to argue for causes that benefit conservatives. Pool may not be rightwing but he’s certainly their useful idiot.
*this book never ended up being published although advance copies were distributed.
**This move isn’t limited to Pool with even leftwing commentators like Sam Seder failing to provide direct links to sources.
***In case you’re wondering the “P > X.XX” stuff is called a P-value and it's a measure of the observed data given that the null hypothesis is true. To put it very simply a null hypothesis is the position that there is no relationship between two measured phenomena, or no association among groups. In this case the null hypothesis would be something like “there is no difference between the results for men and women.” Therefore, in this case, it’s suggesting that it’s fairly unlikely that the null hypothesis is true i.e. there likely differences in the results for men and women.
In November 2018 the YouTuber José made an excellent video about Tim Pool and his Reactionary Reading. I highly recommend the video as it gives another example of how Tim Pool misrepresents the truth and pushes a rightwing narrative.
In April 2019 Twitter user Bailey The Libtardtarian (@atheist_cvnt) wrote a brilliant Twitter thread exposing Tim Pools hypocrisy. Shockingly Pool never responded to the thread.