Given the low standards of mainstream reporting on religious issues, it’s hard to publish an article that is truly disappointing, but Slate’s recent piece “Sick and Far From Home” manages to achieve just that. The article, which a Slate press release trumpeted as “a stunning investigatory story,” claims that “[Mormon] missionary culture counsels strongly against seeking medical help” and that “authority figures block access to care.” The article is based on twenty four anonymous sources who served missions over the last four decades. As readily available data reveal, approximately one million missionaries have been called over that time period, so Stern’s sweeping conclusions are based on a sample of about 0.0024 percent of the relevant population.
There is nothing wrong with asking ex-Mormons for their opinions in addition to other Mormon populations, but asking exclusively ex-Mormons for their view of Mormonism is obviously problematic. In addition, there is the problem of identifying sources. In the article, Stern claims that he refers to his subjects by pseudonyms “at their request,” but given the anonymous nature of Reddit we have to wonder: Did Stern really verify the identities of the people he spoke to?
Read the rest of this article by Nathaniel Givens at First Things