Saturday, August 11, 2007

Janice Shaw Crouse fails her Calculus Exam on Abstinence

What is it with conservatives and their obsession with sex, or rather, not having sex? Of course, the source of this obsession is the Bible, but they know how poorly that plays in modern society, so they steal a page from the Intelligent Design crew and claim that there are logical reasons behind their position that have nothing to do with religion. That sounds reasonable until they actually spell out those arguments, which are consistently the furthest thing from logical. I've previously debunked most of the standard arguments here, so I'm not going to repeat those same arguments with Janice Shaw Crouse's article. Instead I'm going to concentrate on her main argument and dissect it in depth.

In it, she draws a rather simplistic analogy between sex and calculus, how knowing the risks of failing calculus should be understood by students, as should the risks of sex. That's sound enough in the abstract. After all, we should all know the risks involved with anything we do, and take those risks into account when making our decisions to participate or not. But in evaluating those risks, we need to collect and analyze the data carefully and correctly, and she does neither, not by a long shot.

To illustrate, I'll draw an analogy to what she did. Let's say you have a child who wants to play baseball. You, however, fear for his safety, particularly the danger of getting injured by a pitch striking him in the head when he bats. So you have three choices. You can tell him to:

1) Play however and whenever he wants
2) Be sure to play safely and wear a batting helmet if he chooses to play
3) Abstain from playing

Two points should be obvious here. First, if you choose the abstinence option, and the child chooses to play anyway, and unsafely, and gets injured as a result, that would be a strike against the abstinence option. It doesn't make any sense to claim it is really a failure of option #1, since you didn't choose that. Part of the risk of telling him to just abstain is that he will either lie to you about obeying you, or may intend to but succumb to peer pressure and play anyway. Second, if you choose option #2, and he follows your advice for his first game, that is no guarantee that you will continue to choose that option. After he has gained experience, or matures, you may decide that he can use option #1. Once you make that change, obviously the future experience would fall under the new category, not the old one. It makes little sense to count all his experience as option #2 if you followed option #1 for 4 of the 5 years in question.

But amazingly, that is exactly what she does. She assumes that the abstinence option will result in no sex, playing a definitional game of claiming an abstinence child who weakens under peer pressure, inebriation, or any other influence, and has sex, is no longer practicing abstinence. This is pie-in-the-sky nonsense. Weakening under the pressures of the moment is an inherent risk of the abstinence option. To further show how ridiculous this is, what if I told my child to have all the unprotected sex he wanted, so long as it was only with disease-free, sterile partners. Now, what if my child then had sex with someone who claimed she was sterile (on the pill let's say), but lied and wasn't, and he got her pregnant. It is clearly ridiculous for me to claim that this is not a failure of my suggested strategy, because the risk of incorrectly identifying who really is disease free and sterile is part-and-parcel of what I suggested he do. Likewise with abstinence.

Second, the data she cites categorizes the children according to what option they chose the first time, apparently no matter what they do after that, which is absurd enough. But it gets better (or worse, depending on how you look at it), because for the abstinence option, if they change options, they leave the abstinence category. That is, a child who uses a condom for her first sex act is always categorized as a condom user even if the rest of the sex she has is unprotected! This is absurd! Further, those who chose abstinence in year 1, are assumed to remain abstinent over time. How convenient. Can you say "biasing your sample"?

Actual data collected according to the strategy chosen at the time paint a very different picture, which is why the abstinence promoters never want to look at legitimate data. Their abstinence option fares very poorly, and for obvious reasons: children will lie and say they are abstinent when they are not, or intend to be abstinent but cannot resist the temptations of life. People like Shaw Crouse who ignore this reality are not helping the problem, and her embarrassingly poor arguments reveal that those arguments are just shame. The reason she and all the other abstinence-only take the position they do is because they think their Bible tells them so, and reality be damned.

In closing, I invite you to abstain with Roy Zimmerman.

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