Even more abuse of science

Roxeanne de Luca is an annoying little creature. Without even being a creationist or a Christian she manages to engage in their style of argumentation: Make a positive claim, but pretend like the burden of proof is on the opposition. Even more annoying, she attempts to claim the mantle of science (in fields in which she has no significant experience), even though the specific topic will be a subjective one that cannot be defined scientifically. I’ve written about her antics in the past.

What I’ve also written about in the past is the abuse of science. People will commonly read a study which supports something they believe, but then they will inappropriately extrapolate the evidence. For instance, Christian and other far right bigots will find studies which show that it is categorically better for children to have two parents rather than just one parent. They will then extrapolate that gay parents aren’t good for children. That is wildly inappropriate and an obvious abuse of the far more limited evidence.

But this post is about another favorite topic of the far right: abstinence. They have this cockamamie idea that teenagers can be widely prevented from having sex with each other, therefore it’s okay to keep them ignorant about birth control. We’ve been seeing the deadly effects of this thinking in Africa and to a lesser extent South America thanks to the Catholic Church concerning condoms. Unfortunately, Roxeanne reflects this sort of backward thinking. Responding to a CNN article about the worth of casual sex, she says this:

Later in the CNN article, we are told – brace yourselves, conservatives, this is a shocker – that ‘protection’ is not all its is said to be: “[T]he rate of increased use of a condom does not seem great enough to offset the higher risks of infection.”

The above quote actually has nothing to do with the effectiveness of condoms. What it is saying, just after the article points out that increased sexual partners means increased STD risk, is that more people are using condoms, but they are not using them at a high enough rate in order to combat the frequency of infection. Roxeanne not only got this one dead wrong, but she did some very minor quote-mining. Here is the full excerpt:

“The more partners an individual has,” according to “Sex in America,” “the more likely he or she is to have sex with people who themselves have many partners, the more likely he or she is to have sex with virtual strangers, the more likely she or he is to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol during some sexual encounters, and while it is more likely that a condom was used, the rate of increased use of a condom does not seem great enough to offset the higher risks of infection.”

The obvious solution here is to encourage greater condom use while educating teens and others about their effectiveness. Abstinence is not the answer, nor has it ever been effective on a large social scale.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I work with troubled teens. It isn’t uncommon that some of them will have kids of their own – sometimes multiple kids – even though they may only be Freshmen or Sophomores in high school. One of the reasons for this is their ignorance about condom usage. During an educational group not too long ago they were being told about the need for such protection and their reactions were along the lines of, “Oh, I never knew that. I’ll start using condoms more often now.” I actually doubt many of them will unless forced by their partner, but the fact that they genuinely didn’t have this basic knowledge is indicative of the need for broad-based educational programs and protection promotion. No one can stop kids from having sex, but we can stop them from being ignorant.

But back to Roxeanne’s inappropriate and embarrassing extrapolation. The article clearly states that the increased rate of condom use is not high enough to combat the higher risks of infection. In other words, while condoms are effective when used properly, they are not being used frequently enough. More common usage can dramatically cut down on the rates of infection, but this will only be achieved through education and safe-sex promotion. At no point is it said that condom protection “is not all its (sic) is said to be”. No one doubts the effectiveness of condoms. The problem is with the effectiveness of educational campaigns and the spread of needed knowledge. People like Roxeanne who, in a willing abuse of science, put out misleading and false information are part of the problem; their promotion of ignorance contributes to increased rates of infection and even death.

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22 comments on “Even more abuse of science

  1. Um… kid? You spend waaaaaay too much time thinking about me. I forgot that you had existed.

    Incidentally, the efforts to encourage abstinence and discourage condom use in South Africa resulted in lower rates of AIDS transmission. Now, my “scientist” (i.e. “snot nosed 20-year-old who has never set foot in a lab outside of school”) blogger: why would that be? It’s an irrefutable data point. Why does it happen?

  2. I’m 26, but the ol’ “I’m older than you, therefore I must be right about things” argument is always good for a laugh.

    But what isn’t much of a laughing matter is made up bullshit from Roxeanne. Honestly, we both have Google. You ought to check it out sometime. But until you do, I’ll help you a bit with some pesky facts. (You’re going to want to click that link and read it over before you respond with more things that are just made up.)

    So what we see in South Africa is that HIV infection has been dramatically reduced amongst the younger generation. And this is despite the dramatically higher number of sexual partners 15-24 year olds have versus older generations (page 14). And why might that be the case? Well, if we mosey on over to page 17 we’ll see that about 80% of 15-24 year olds use condoms. 25-49 year olds use them about 57% of the time, and people over 50 are closer to 32%.

    So while we ought to expect a high prevalence of HIV amongst 15-24 year olds given the sheer odds they have of contracting the disease due to how many sexual partners they average, we actually see numbers that are about average. We also see high condom usage.

    As to your claim that people have been discouraged to use condoms, there are nefarious organizations and people out there (such as yourself) who do give out bad advice. However, should you take another look at page 17, you’ll notice a dramatic increase in condom use over the years. For instance, about 52% of 15-24 year olds used condoms in 2002. As I said earlier, that number is at 80% now. For 25-49 year olds, about 37% of them used condoms in 2002. In 2008 it was 57%. For those over 50, perhaps 7% used condoms in 2002. In 2008 it was 57%.

    So much for your “irrefutable data point”. Maybe you should try looking up the data first next time.

  3. Abstinence proponents are usually just frustrated about their own lack of sex and envious of others. Of course, there are tons of data that show abstinence is ineffective, just like the ineffective joke known as the pope.

  4. Her reply there is impressive. She manages to completely ignore the fact that you undermined her prior argument, then just conjures up a new argument that is both wrong and irrelevant. That, and she scolds you for having the audacity to rebut her in the first place.

    I knew there had to be a lady Jack out there somewhere.

  5. Bob, you shock me once again with your omnipotence. It amazing how you can see into the hearts and minds of others and collect their thoughts and feelings on any matter, congeal it, and spit it out in a comments section.

    I think abstinence is 100% effective, even you can’t deny that. Adherence, is far less, as is condom usage.

  6. Let me get this straight. You put forth positive assertions and then get mad when I point out that you need to back them up.

    I was happily minding my own bloggy-business, which, in your world, is being an “annoying little creature.” Given that I am both human and 5’9, I would say that your statement fails on all three counts: sort of like describing a crab as a “red fish that walks sideways.”

    Then, against the data (i.e. that condoms change behaviour and thus, overall, increase the spread of disease more than they decrease it), you claim that I make unsupported assertions. You support this with… no data of your own.

    To top it off, your gaggle of idiot liberal friends (but I repeat myself) show their brilliant ability to argue logically by… attacking my ability to get laid.

    Thanks for the laugh.

    (Oh, by the way, dear blogger: I looked you up on the directory of the school you attend. You were an undergraduate sophomore last year. Nice try at being 26 – unless you’re on the famous “nine year” plan for higher education, and that doesn’t include a PhD and a MBA!)

  7. He’s definitely 26.

    If you are talking about me attacking your ability to get laid, I was attacking his, not yours. Your ability to read and process seems to be diminished somewhat.

    I’m also far from liberal. My modus operandi is to argue against 95% of his blog posts, even if I have to be ridiculous in doing so.

    The only thing you have identified that is of any use at all, is the classic moral hazard. Condom users, on the whole, should be more likely to engage in behavior they would otherwise avoid, increasing disease transmission by shear force of numbers.

    There is evidence that that is true to an extent, however the pitfalls of this moral hazard appear to be outweighed by the number of people who decide not to be chaste.

    Abstention is best, failing that, best use a condom, failing that also, if you aren’t the praying type, that would be the time to flip flop.

  8. Let me get this straight. You put forth positive assertions and then get mad when I point out that you need to back them up.

    I was referring to the antics of yours I’ve written about in the past. You, along with Neil, couldn’t answer some basic questions about biology (which makes sense since you two are so confused about the scientific concept of development versus the non-scientific concept (outside of evolution) of humanity), so you turned around and demanded I provide you with answers about what I believe. It was classic religious argumentation: make a positive claim and tell the other side to disprove it instead of defending it yourself.

    As for my own assertions here, I have backed them up. I’ve given you the statistics and my source.

    I was happily minding my own bloggy-business, which, in your world, is being an “annoying little creature.” Given that I am both human and 5’9, I would say that your statement fails on all three counts: sort of like describing a crab as a “red fish that walks sideways.”

    I’ve written a few times about my appreciation for rhetoric on here, and you’ve provided a classic example: take a metaphor or simile or something hyperbolic your opponent has said and look at it literally. In this case you’ve taken “little” and countered it with your height. Fine enough, but unfortunately you took “creature” to be something other than human. It certainly can be, but you have no taxonomic reason to exclude humans as also creatures. Cicero would be pleased with your effort, but disappointed with your execution.

    Then, against the data (i.e. that condoms change behaviour and thus, overall, increase the spread of disease more than they decrease it), you claim that I make unsupported assertions. You support this with… no data of your own.

    As Nate pointed out, you’ve identified a moral hazard, but you fail on the data. (What’s even more amazing is that you have the audacity to say I haven’t supported myself with any data, as if nobody can plainly see my previous comment.) Increased condom use in South Africa amongst young people has kept their transmission rate of HIV in line with other generations – despite the fact that they average many more sexual partners.

    (Further on the moral hazard, education about STD’s and why it is important to wear condoms has greatly raised awareness of diseases like AIDS. As a result, young people are being more cautious and having protected sex instead of unprotected sex. And less you embarrass yourself again and claim I haven’t supported this with data, feel free to, ya know, actually read the link I provided in my previous post. It’s all there.)

    To top it off, your gaggle of idiot liberal friends (but I repeat myself) show their brilliant ability to argue logically by… attacking my ability to get laid.

    Actually, one person spoke of abstinence-only individuals broadly while another person and I had some banter that had nothing to do with you. Have you even read this thread?

    (Oh, by the way, dear blogger: I looked you up on the directory of the school you attend. You were an undergraduate sophomore last year. Nice try at being 26 – unless you’re on the famous “nine year” plan for higher education, and that doesn’t include a PhD and a MBA!)

    I have no idea where you got your information, but I qualified for a four-year degree outside my major at the end of the fall 2010 semester. I will have my four-year Biology degree at the end of next spring (and probably that other degree, along with a Philosophy and possibly a History minor). But good job on the logic about the age. Anyone who is not a Senior in college (though I am) must be younger than 26 – especially at my school where the average student age is about 35.

  9. Abstinence has never been a viable solution to STDs, much less supported by evidence. It’s purely a moral/religious avoidance of the issue, the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shoutinig “LA-LA-LA If I pretend teenagers won’t have sex, it will go away!”

    The data is clear. Birth control works; abstinence fails.

  10. I’m sorry, are you trying to say that abstinence can’t prevent STD’s?

    I would have thought it was the most effective means when used properly.

    My sister has had two children while taking oral birth control, and I have heard these dirty rumors that condoms can break! Especially when not used properly.

    What it comes down to is whether it is abstinence, condoms, pills, implants, etc, etc, they are all worthless if not used properly.

    I personally have some serious problems with sex ed that doesn’t teach abstinence as a solution, at least in part. Don’t misunderstand me, teach about condoms and so on, teach it well, but make sure the point is made that the only surefire way to avoid pregnancy and STD’s… is in fact, abstaining from sex. Not much fun, but the only 100% safe way to go.

    Consider whether you would knowingly have sex with an AIDS patient using a condom. Personally, I would abstain in the vast, overwhelming number of circumstances.

  11. Thanks, Michael, for pointing this out. People need to be made aware of the danger of bad arguments and the need for sound logic as well as the danger of unprotected sex with somebody you just met in a public rest room and the need to use condoms.

    Nate: The frequently-cited statistics about the efficacy of birth control are usually based on people’s actual use, which is often inconsistent or incorrect. If your sister didn’t take her pills consistently, maybe some other form of birth control would be more effective for her, such as Depo-Provera, which doesn’t require you to remember to take a pill every day, or condoms, which you only have to use when you actually have sex. I know it can be hard, especially for women with lots of responsibilities, to remember to take them every day.

    Likewise, abstinence is highly effective at preventing pregnancy as well as AIDS transmission through sex (though that still leaves other modes of transmission, such as re-using needles, which is unfortunately common in some parts of the developing world), but only if it’s used consistently and correctly…which is very rare.

    I’ve never been pregnant that I know of (it is possible to get pregnant but to miscarry very early; indeed, I seem to recall reading that this is quite frequent), and I’ve always — yes, every single time — used condoms as my sole method of birth control. Never had a break or anything. If you use them correctly, and every time, they’re about as effective as the pill (again, if used correctly).

    Incidentally, I’m a working scientist with a doctoral degree, though I am not a social scientist and certainly don’t claim to be an expert on STD transmission statistics or sex education. (I do not believe my age is relevant; suffice it to say it’s somewhere between 20 and 40.) When I had sex education (way back in the stone age, when sex ed was not quite as politicised as it is today) it was more or less as Nate described:

    > teach about condoms and so on, teach it well, but make sure the point is made that the only surefire way to avoid pregnancy and STD’s… is in fact, abstaining from sex

    I don’t think anybody was trying to suggest that you should ignore this fact. It’s abstinence-*only* that is the problem. Just like trickle-down economics, abstinence-only sex “education” is the result of prioritising ideology over efficacy. It is based on a religious worldview that considers it more important to punish people (and particularly, young women) for “sinning” than to 1) prevent disease and unplanned pregnancy and 2) be intellectually honest.

  12. I can’t fault anything other than your jab at “trickle down” economics. I won’t get into it (I love side bars, but I try and keep it at least somewhat related), but it should suffice to say that these stimulus ideas are just more trickling.

  13. I do fail to see anything wrong with sticking to ones principles, rather than just picking the most effective way to do things every time.

    Take those against the death penalty like Michael. The most effective way to prevent recidivism is to put murderers to death, however Michael can take a stand on principle saying we should stop doing that because… well because, I’m sure there is a good reason.

    So too can people disavow birth control if they so choose, I don’t see there to be anything wrong with that, religious or not.

    One barbarous solution would be to stop treating AIDS patients. I have little doubt that with a life expectancy (untreated) of around a year, the infection rate would be slowed. However, based on my ridiculous ideology I think that’s a pretty bad solution, however efficacious it may be.

  14. I have a few posts on the death penalty that can be found by searching with those terms. I haven’t re-read any of those writings, but I’m sure a relatively robust position can be teased out, whether in the posts themselves or the subsequent comment sections.

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