Nexis search reveals unexplained spike in deaths by auto-erotic asphyxiation

Categories: Economy

On Wednesday night at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis, author Tamara Draut will discuss her new book Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead. Her thesis is that today's young adults face financial hurdles unknown to previous generations, including skyrocketing college tuition costs, increasingly wretched pension and healthcare options, and the erosion of manufacturing jobs.

While the trends that Draut describes are undoubtedly alarming, she often struggles in attempting to argue why these problems are specific to the Gen X population that her book targets. In the opening chapter of Strapped, which details the ever-escalating costs of college tuition, Draut throws out a real whopper of dubious statistical analysis.

To illustrate how nonexistent student loan debt was for previous generations, I conducted a simple Nexis search. When I typed in the words "student loan debt" for the years 1971 to 1980, the search yielded no articles; not a single article on this subject appeared in any newspaper or magazine in the entire country. The next decade brought only a handful of articles, only sixty-seven about student loan debt between 1981 and 1990, to be exact. ... Continuing the Nexis query, I searched "student loan debt" for the decade 1991 to 2000. The search was interrupted because it would yield more than 1,000 articles. The debt-for-diploma system had arrived.

Now Nexis searches employed to measure national trends are a staple for lazy daily newspaper columnists throughout the country, but there's a slight problem with comparing the 1990s to the 1970s: the archives of most publications don't go back nearly that far. For instance, The Washington Post's archive only goes back to 1977, while full-text articles from The New York Times are only available from 1980 forward. Smaller papers generally have even less of their archives available on Nexis. The Kansas City Star, for example, goes back to 1994, while the Star Tribune's archive begins in 1991.

In fact, by using Draut's methodology, you could pretty much make the case for any trend imaginable. Here are a few examples of the alarming spikes that I encountered while entering random Nexis searches.

"auto-erotic asphyxiation"
70s: none
80s: 2
90s: 168

"elephant hunting"
70s: 7
80s: 91
90s: 405

"sun stroke"
70s: 5
80s: 51
90s: 486

"cannibalism and christianity"
70s: 2
80s: 93
90s: 693

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