Letters to the editor

  • Wednesday February 1, 2012
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Statistics correction

The common parlor game of "telephone" can be quite fun. In it, people sit in a circle and whisper something in a person's ear, then it is whispered into another ear and so on. It can be funny to hear what was originally said and how it came out at the end.

Not so funny is how a statistic on HIV and aging is making the rounds. Last Thursday (January 26) at one of the forums in San Francisco that day relating to LGBT aging issues, one of the speakers said (incorrectly) that in 2011 the percentage of people in San Francisco (city proper) HIV-positive who were over age 50 was more than 50 percent. Not true (or at least, not verifiable at this time).

The source of the misquoted and misstated statistic was the late Randy Allgaier's statement in the June 2010 (written) and October 2010 (oral presentation) HIV and Aging 2010 report: "In San Francisco, the aging nature of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is significant. In 2004, the population 50 years of age and older accounted for approximately 30 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases. Just four years later, this population accounted for approximately 40 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases. In 2008, 47 percent of San Franciscans with an AIDS diagnosis were 50 years of age and older and of these 13 percent were over 60 years of age." (Source: SF HIV Planning Council Report 2010, which can be accessed via http://www.sfcarecouncil.org/Documents/documents.htm [scroll down to and click on "HIV and Aging Policy Paper 2010 PDF])."

Allgaier further stated, "By the end of 2012, if current trends continue 50 percent in S.F. will be over the age of 50." (Source: SF HIV Planning Council Report 2010 [PowerPoint version]). In effect Allgaier was linear extrapolating past numbers into a linear trend projection for the end of 2012. Again this was a projection, based on past statistics and was a linear projection, not an actual statistic. For now 2011 and 2012 statistics are not available from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, so the assertion is currently either not true or not verifiable.

This projection by Allgaier, based on SF Dept of Public Health statistics, got picked in the press without the details and qualifiers and methods as to how it was calculated as a quick sound bite-like quote.

Apparently last week's speaker picked up the sound bite and further stretched 2012 to say 2011. Now it is on the record as a "fact" presented at a public forum, i.e. the untrue assertion that last year the percentage of HIV-positive cases aged 50-plus is over 50 percent in San Francisco (again not true or not verifiable). Now that will probably get misquoted again in the press, going full circle like a game of telephone.

While this may seem on the surface to be nit-picking (and yes, regardless of the misquotes, the percentages of those with HIV in SF aged 50-plus is high), the caviler use of statistics, well intentioned or not, detracts for the validity, authenticity, and impact of the message by casting doubt on the issue and the messengers trying to present the issue.

I hope that people will become aware of the source of the misquote, be careful when quoting this statistic in the future, and go to the original sources before quoting such statistics in public.

Loren Meissner

San Francisco

[Editor's note: According to a Bay Area Reporter February 3, 2011 article, 53 percent of San Francisco AIDS cases in 2010 were among people 50 and older. In December health officials reported that people 50 and older accounted for a majority of living HIV and AIDS cases.]

What would Harvey do?

I attended the January 23 hearing at City Hall on Supervisor Scott Wiener's legislation to address neighbors' concerns about behavior at Harvey Milk and Jane Herman plazas ["Castro plaza rules inch closer to passage," January 26]. I spoke for the provision that would make the spaces tobacco-free. Here's my pet peeve: several of those who testified in opposition to other provisions invoked Harvey Milk's ghost to claim he would have opposed the legislation for one reason or another. Oh, please. I'm sure most of those folks never met Milk, including the 8-year-old boy who was trotted out to testify that, "Harvey wouldn't like this." Harvey was a good person, with a host of political viewpoints. Pretending to know how he would come down on a nuanced bill is an exercise in absurdity, and even if you got it right, so what? Argue the merits of an issue instead of calling upon the Holy One to show that you're on the side of the angels. Harvey wouldn't like it.

Naphtali Offen, Tobacco Documents Researcher

Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences


Plazas should be tobacco-free

Freedom From Tobacco is concerned about inaccuracies in the article "Castro plaza rules inch closer to passage." The article states: "The issue has pitted anti-smoking activists and Castro residents against homeless advocates and a neighborhood nonprofit that offers services to LGBT youth." Freedom From Tobacco is not against anyone in our community. We are against Big Tobacco, which has targeted LGBT people to the point where queers smoke twice as much as the general population.

We are here to support the vast majority of smokers who want to quit by encouraging the creation of more smoke-free spaces, which may help to give them the last push they need to break free from tobacco.

We were not at the hearing to speak either in favor of, or in opposition to, the ordinance, since our expertise does not extend to the other aspects of the proposal. Clearly, we would like to see the plazas be smoke-free, but whether this or different legislation is the best way to do that is not for us to decide.

Lastly, the article repeatedly refers to cigarette smoking, when our concern extends to all forms of secondhand tobacco smoke, including cigars and pipes.

Brian Davis, Project Director

Freedom From Tobacco

San Francisco