Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fair and Balanced Science

In case you thought that the Decider had Decided to back off on fixing the scientific facts around the policy, I learn by way of Mike Mitka in JAMA that CDC responded to political pressure by "balancing" a panel at the 2006 National STD Prevention Conference. It seems the panel was originally entitled "Are Abstinence-Only Programs a Threat to Public Health." The panel members had actually conducted research which found that such programs -- "sex education" for young people in which the only alternative to getting STDs is presented as abstinence -- don't work. The reason the research finds that abstinence only programs don't work is that they don't work.

However, the facts weren't good enough for Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ignorance), who wrote to DHHS to demand a more "balanced" panel. He got it. Two of the original speakers were replaced by speakers who support abstinence only programs. But, according to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Jonathan Zenilman, M.D., the conference organizer, said that "no abstinence-only advocates were selected for the initial panel because no proposals were submitted that offered credible data on the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs."

You can get the Powerpoint presentations from the session here, though I must warn you the server is glacial. If you put up with the wait, you will see that the pro-abstinence only presentations argue that most people don't want adolescents to have sex, and that adolescents shouldn't have sex because it's wrong and it might be bad for them. What they do not show is that abstinence-only sex education programs a) cause them not to have sex or b) are as effective as comprehensive sex education programs at reducing the rates of unwanted pregnancy and STDs. They reason they don't show those results is that the truth is otherwise.

Incredibly, I heard a discussion last night on Christopher Lydon's program on NPR, with the NPR ombudsman, over whether the new standard in journalism should be "truth," rather than "balance." Apparently the ombudsman, and Chris, find this to be a tough call.

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