Thursday, December 02, 2004

War on Facts (Part CXII)

In an article in today's Post, we learn that the War on Facts continues in our high schools' abstinence programs which have been promoted by the Bush administration in spite of the fact that such programs do not work. So there are two fronts in this battle of the War on Facts. First, there are the lies about scientific matters of fact. Second, there is the lie about the effectiveness of such programs regardless of their mendacious techniques.

On the first front, the Post article reports:
Many American youngsters participating in federally funded abstinence-only programs have been taught over the past three years that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person's genitals "can result in pregnancy," a congressional staff analysis has found.

Those and other assertions are examples of the "false, misleading, or distorted information" in the programs' teaching materials, said the analysis, released yesterday, which reviewed the curricula of more than a dozen projects aimed at preventing teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
The report concluded that two of the curricula were accurate but the 11 others, used by 69 organizations in 25 states, contain unproved claims, subjective conclusions or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits and when life begins. In some cases, Waxman said in an interview, the factual issues were limited to occasional misinterpretations of publicly available data; in others, the materials pervasively presented subjective opinions as scientific fact.

Among the misconceptions cited by Waxman's investigators:

• A 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person."

• HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread via sweat and tears.

• Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.

One curriculum, called "Me, My World, My Future," teaches that women who have an abortion "are more prone to suicide" and that as many as 10 percent of them become sterile. This contradicts the 2001 edition of a standard obstetrics textbook that says fertility is not affected by elective abortion, the Waxman report said.
Not only are there scientific distortions and errors, but sociological ones as well.
Some course materials cited in Waxman's report present as scientific fact notions about a man's need for "admiration" and "sexual fulfillment" compared with a woman's need for "financial support." One book in the "Choosing Best" series tells the story of a knight who married a village maiden instead of the princess because the princess offered so many tips on slaying the local dragon. "Moral of the story," notes the popular text: "Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man's confidence or even turn him away from his princess."
By the way, kudos to Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.). Why can't we have more representatives like him?

As for the second front of the battle--to convince parents, educators, policy-makers, and citizens that such abstinence programs are effective--the truth is at best ambiguous.
Nonpartisan researchers have been unable to document measurable benefits of the abstinence-only model. Columbia University researchers found that although teenagers who take "virginity pledges" may wait longer to initiate sexual activity, 88 percent eventually have premarital sex.
Here's a Washington Post story about the abstinence-only program that George Bush established in Texas.
This is sex education, Texas-style, where the only safe sex taught since 1995 is no sex outside marriage. That is when George W. Bush, who was then governor, signed a law making Texas the third state requiring schools to follow an abstinence-only sex education curriculum.

Now President Bush is promoting abstinence-until-marriage programs nationwide, a shift in health policy that has sparked an emotional debate over how to keep young people healthy. Abstinence-only proponents say that teaching young people about birth control is simply inviting them to have sex; advocates for comprehensive sex education say that withholding detailed information leads to dire medical consequences. Lubbock's situation illustrates the limitations of abstinence-only programs.

In the seven years since their schools began teaching abstinence-only, young people here have been anything but abstinent. Teen pregnancy rates in the state remain above the national average, and Lubbock County consistently has one of the highest rates in the state. In addition, the number of Texas youths with sexually transmitted diseases has risen steadily.
And here are the results of a survey of the effectiveness of such programs in Minnesota. (Short answer: not.)
The Minnesota researchers surveyed 413 kids who were taught the abstinence-only curriculum at one school in each of three counties. They found over the course of the year that the rate of those who said they were sexually active increased from 5.8 to 12.4 percent, and that the rate of those who said they would probably have sex before finishing high school increased from 9.5 to 17 percent.
All that talk about abstinence really gets those hormones flowing apparently. Good thing they know about matters of safe-sex. Oh, wait.

Of course, this battle of truth-suppression has been waged on many other fronts. Here is a reminder of the Bush administration's approach to the problem of global warming, as assessed by James E. Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York who has twice briefed a task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney on global warming.
"In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now," James E. Hansen told a University of Iowa audience.
Hansen said the administration wants to hear only scientific results that "fit predetermined, inflexible positions." Evidence that would raise concerns about the dangers of climate change is often dismissed as not being of sufficient interest to the public.
Hansen said such warnings are consistently suppressed, while studies that cast doubt on such interpretations receive favorable treatment from the administration.

He also said reports that outline potential dangers of global warming are edited to make the problem appear less serious. "This process is in direct opposition to the most fundamental precepts of science," he said.


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