Monday, July 11, 2005

Getting Tricky With the Data

Those opposed to changes in the MCPS sex-ed curriculum, as well as other anti-sex-education oddballs, often argue that condoms are ineffective. It is not uncommon for them to talk in terms of "failure rates" of condoms, and to exaggerate those. Oh, and they love to talk about human papillomavirus, which can be spread even when a condom is used (because it does not require sexual contact at all). They prefer not to dwell on the various diseases that are blocked by the condom.

Unfortunately for them, the pesky, so-called "research evidence" consistently finds that condoms are effective for preventing pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infection. But while the data do not back up their arguments, they know which conclusion fits their ideological framework -- if you consider sex outside of marriage to be sinful, then you may be tempted to search for any kinds of arguments that discourage it, even if they are based on made-up facts. Your primary need is to find support for the conclusion you want.

One solution: deny the research evidence. Pretend it doesn't exist. Act like it says something other than what it actually says.

The St. Petersburg Times has a great editorial about a US Senator who is trying to do just that. I'm going to quote the whole thing:
Sex and sanctimony
A Times Editorial
Published July 10, 2005


Public health science is clear: Condom use is an effective way to stop the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. That means condoms save lives as well as stop unwanted pregnancies. So why would anyone, least of all a doctor, want to discourage sexually active individuals from using condoms?

The doctor in this case is Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a sanctimonious ideologue who is holding up confirmation of the acting Food and Drug Administration commissioner until that agency agrees to change condom labeling. Coburn wants the FDA to make condoms sound riskier than they really are, apparently to discourage use and push his abstinence agenda. Meanwhile, back in the real world, STDs remain a "major health threat in the United States," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 19-million infections yearly, half involving young people.

Coburn insisted that the National Institutes of Health issue a report on the subject, which it did four years ago. The report confirmed the efficacy of condoms in protecting against HIV and gonorrhea, but also noted that because of "inadequacies of the evidence available," it couldn't determine how well condoms worked against other STDs, though some degree of protection was noted in every study.

Coburn latched onto the uncertainty, as though it were proof of failure. Now he wants the FDA to require a condom label to proclaim not only the product's potential benefits but also its "lack of effectiveness in preventing STDs," according a Coburn spokesman.

Heather Boonstra with the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health, has been through this battle before and says Coburn and his allies are "manipulating this data to drive home their own anticondom, anticontraceptive message."

An obstetrician, Coburn has a spiteful edge that belies his medical training. reported that at a Republican gathering last year, Coburn said the "gay agenda" was "the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today" and the source of "rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners."

Whatever his views on homosexuality, a doctor should know that promotion of condom use is a public health agenda. Here are the facts: When properly used, condoms reduce the chance of pregnancy from 85 percent without birth control to 3 percent over a year. The risk of HIV infection is greatly reduced - to less then 1 percent with condom use. The transmission of other STDs is also greatly diminished, and in no instance would a sexually active person be safer without using a condom.

Coburn's fellow senators should tell him that they won't put up with his rants when lives are at stake.Sex and sanctimony

It's sad that we live in a time when you have to fight desperately to convince people to follow common sense ... but we do. You can't just sit around thinking everything will be okay.


Post a Comment

<< Home