Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

PBS and Professor Hefner

As the fight over PBS-funding continues, the Republican Study Committee has released this reminder on the "educational" agenda... er... programming over at PBS. From the press release:

The Public Broadcasting Service, PBS, is currently advertising for their movie, the Education of Shelby Knox, to premier on Tuesday, June 21, 2005. According to the PBS website, the movie is about 15-yearold Shelby Knox, who had personally pledged abstinence until marriage, but becomes an advocate for teaching teens about contraception and condom use through sex education. As part of her advocacy, Shelby allies herself with a group of gay students who have been denied the right to form a gay-straight alliance in school.

Oh yeah, and Playboy’s the corporate sponsor.

Discussions - 23 Comments

Satirists are like ox cart drivers in this culture - completely obsolete. If a humorist had made the Playboy sponsorship bit in your post up, critics would call him heavy-handed.

PBS should be defunded not because of their bias, but because public funding should not be involved in anything so debased and useless as television. On the other hand it helps to have a supine population...

Didn’t PBS pull a show on evolution because the funding for the show came from a group that had a vested interest in a certain viewpoint?

Let’s hope that, if all goes well, in a few years we’ll be seeing specials about the power of prayer, co-sponsored by National Review and the Family Research Council.

lets hope in a few years people watch less television

This recent right-wing attack on PBS strikes me as part of an overall right-wing attack on science and empiricism. The hairs that were split in the cited article "the only method that is 100% effective" would certainly not have been split had they been offered in the service of creationism, or homophobia.

The real problem with PBS in this case seems to be that they report on a difference between an abstinence-only approach (one that is endorsed by neo-con fundamentalists, but that has been shown empirically to fall short of its goals) and an educational approach (that has been shown empirically to be MORE effective at preventing STD’s and unwanted pregnancies.

There is a bias at work, here, but the problem is not a "liberal" bias. Instead, it is an anti-science bias, endorsed by people who would rather support abstinence-only projects, denying the fact that such an approach results in more unwanted pregnancies and STD’s. These are difficult to support when people know the facts, and PBS is one of the last places where people can, in fact, get the facts on sex and sexuality.

A few years ago, I found myself working on Governor Bush’s "Access & Equity 2000" program at one of Texas’s finer institutions of higher education. We were sitting under portraits of Confederate generals, generating hypotheses about variables that might prevent ethnic minorities from attending college, and coming up empty. During that discussion, (I can’t remember exactly why!) we moved to the topic of condom dispensers in the mens’ bathrooms. This bizarre notion was quickly squashed by the administration, because condom dispensers would be equivalent to encouraging students to have sex.

My response was that the administration had just stumble upon a terrific way to reduce car accidents and women’s menstrual bleeding: simply remove tampon dispensers from woemen’s bathrooms, and seat belts from cars! Obviously, making these devices available to people only encouraged them to have accidents and periods.

Strangely enough, my point of view lacked an appreciative audience. I soon followed the administration’s suggestion that I might be happier teaching where science is valued more heavily than is wishful thinking.

My response was that the administration had just stumble upon a terrific way to reduce car accidents and women’s menstrual bleeding: simply remove tampon dispensers from woemen’s bathrooms, and seat belts from cars! Obviously, making these devices available to people only encouraged them to have accidents and periods.

Well, Fung, while the part about menstrual bleeding is silly, you’re on the right track when it comes to seat belts, which create an incentive to drive less cautiously. I recall one economist arguing that if the federal government really wanted to get people to drive safely, they should require automakers to install a long, sharp spike in the center of the steering wheel of every car they make.

Also, who are these "neocon fundamentalists" you mention? Everyone knows that neocons are Jews! :)

Ah, Fung, still spewing sanctimonious drivel? Welcome, old friend.

1) First, your example about the Bush initiative in Texas as an anti-scientific "failure" is specious. Such a narrow technocratic point of view! Abstinence has been show to reduce teen pregnancy (and STDs) just as well if not better than contraceptives. Moreover, I’ve seen some new research that links abstinence to 1) longer marriages, and 2) higher incomes during adulthood. So, who’s being scientific here? You like the idea of condoms in bathrooms because it fits with your worldview, not because it is scientifically "proven" to accomplish more policy goals than abstinence.

2) About your broader point on rightwing anti-intellectualism and PBS, please don’t be a hypocrite. People, Left and Right, apply an ideological and/or moral filter to their acceptance of science. For instance, an overwhelming amount of historical and biological evidence indicates that our species is hierarchical (i.e., we engage in pecking order), and that if deprived of economic stratification we will created racial, religious, or political stratification in its place. Yet this "science" is ignored by the Left; left-leaning university researchers assume that 1) equality is possible, and 2) that it is good. The assumptions that direct their "science" is completely unscientific! Another (much more controversial) example -- the black-white academic achievement gap. Gaps in test scores persist between blacks and whites even net of income, family background, etc., and yet the Left refuses to even entertain the possibility of genetic differences. I hope you’ll agree that this is hardly a scientific attitude to take. Genetic difference is just one of many hypotheses, and yet this particular one if taboo on Leftist campuses around the country. Why?

Bottom line, science is necessarily amoral, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to allow morality to trump science as a method. In this regard the Left is hypocritical...the Right seldom cites science in support of its positions, but the Left (e.g., your post) does it all the time (even when it isn’t true, which is most of the time).

Oh, here’s a study on abstinence that helps support my point (#1) above.

"An Analysis of the Causes of the Decline in Non-marital Birth and Pregnancy Rates for Teens from 1991 to 1995"
Mohn, Joanna K.
Adolescent and Family Health Vol. 3, Number 1. , 2003. Page(s) 39-47

an overwhelming amount of historical and biological evidence indicates that our species is hierarchical (i.e., we engage in pecking order), and that if deprived of economic stratification we will created racial, religious, or political stratification in its place.

You’re so right, Dain, and those who fail to work their way up in the pecking order of the real world must resign themselves to stroking their fragile egos by attempting to conquer the few who disagree with the party line (or, just YOU) on a right-wing blogsite.

Sorry that you don’t like the message, Dan. Looks to me like you are guilty of the same thing :)

Besides, if this were about me and my ego wouldn’t I use my last name...as you apparently do? The fact is, I have ample "standing" in my community, and my postings can’t possibly help me in that regard (indeed, this distracts me from status-questing). Therefore, please keep your snotty comments to yourself...you obviously have nothing of substance to share.

Dain, (thanks for the nice welcome!)please go to the website for the American Federation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) where they will show you that, despite the following:

· The most rigorous published review to date
of 28 sex education programs in the United
States and Canada aimed at reducing teen
pregnancy and STDs, including HIV, found
that none of the three abstinence-only programs
that met inclusion criteria for review
demonstrated evidence of efficacy for delaying
sexual debut
· Furthermore, these three programs did not
reduce the frequency of sex or the number of
partners among those students who had ever
had sex
· This same review found that nine abstinence-plus
programs showed efficacy in delaying
sexual debut, as well as reducing the frequency
of intercourse and increasing condom
use once sex began
........

....
funding for Abstinence-only programs has gone from 20 million in 2001 to 104 million in 2005.

Perhaps the proponents of "Just say no" campaigns have confused actual abstinence with programs to encourage abstinence. I would not argue that abstinence itself will reduce HIV transmission, as well as unwanted pregnancy, for the abstainer. But, a program to encourage abstinence is worse, according to this research, than abstinence-plus programs.

Again, if people want to engage in wishful thinking, then we should keep spending our money on abstinence-only. But, for the fiscal conservatives among us, I would think that we could save a bit by putting our support behind programs that really work!

So, Dain, it really hurts my feelings when you call me a hypocrite! As a liberal social scientist, I must plead guilty to the charge that I value equality. In fact, that is one of my favorite parts of the Declaration of Independence! And as for the natural tendency toward hierarchy, if you go back far enough, we also had fur all over our bodies, but we have evolved a bit since then, or some of us have. Life and history are full of disease, war, aggression, and bad manners, but that doesn’t mean that such is our natural state. Nor does it mean that we should embrace them, simply because they are everywhere.

John- I have an idea. Let’s put spikes in all the steering wheel centers in the "Red" states, and seatbelts in the "Blue" and conduct an experiment! Your (also silly) suggestion reminded me of an argument that I heard (also in Texas) for keeping loaded guns in the house, on the premise that anyone stumbling upon a gun in the house would assume that it is loaded, and would therefore handle it carefully.

Sometimes I despair, and feel that the differences between us are truly too great to be resolved.

Oh, Fung, you are funny. I may be more closely tied to this research than you are...at least in an odd way. When you boil down all that AmFar blather, you find this:

"Very little rigorous evaluation of abstinence-only programs
has been completed; in fact, only three studies met the criteria
for this review. The primary conclusion that can be drawn from
these three studies is that the evidence is not conclusive about
abstinence-only programs. None of the three evaluated programs
showed an overall positive effect on sexual behavior, nor did they
affect contraceptive use among sexually active participants.
However, given the paucity of the research and the great diversity
of abstinence-only programs that is not reflected in these three
studies, one should be very careful about drawing conclusions
about abstinence-only programs in general."

So, sweeping conclusions from 3 programs in the year 2000, years before the big funding increase? Your "science" needs a bit of help...no one with any training who bothers to look into this would conclude that abstinence-only is a loser...and that includes Doug Kirby!

Besides, Fung, did any of these programs place condom machines in the bathrooms? I doubt it...there’s a difference between educating people about contraception and actively (and symbolically) endorsing sex outside of marriage. I also note that you say nothing about the other possible benefits of abstinence, like later marriage, less divorce, and higher incomes. On balance, maybe all those "Christian Taliban" have a better case that you realize!

Finally, as is your MO, you sidestep my point about Leftists imbuing their supposedly "objective" research with unrealistic and subjective values. I’m glad you like equality, but using that as a guide to research is not scientific. I’m also happy that you think that a little "liberal" education can overcome 10 million years of evolution...how quaint. The Jacobins thought they were civilized as well, but we know what happened during the Reign of Terror, don’t we? The Soviets were going to create the "New Socialist Man," but they failed, didn’t they? Sarcastically dismissing what I say, indeed your attempt to hoist yourself above me (i.e., "or some of us have") is a sign of hierarchy. It matters to you...it matters to us all.

Dain, I do believe you have found your sweet-spot in this thread. Actually informative and entertaining.

Well, thanks, partner. I’m glad to oblige. Stand by...I doubt Fung is through yet...Liberals hate being wrong (being essentially narcissists, facts contrary to their worldviews strike directly at their egos...tends to make fireworks!)

Good Lord, Dain, it’s just staggering, absolutely head-spinning. EVERY SINGLE THING THAT YOU ACCUSE FUNG AND "LIBERALS’ OF, YOU YOURSELF ARE GUILTY OF....IN SPADES!!! Name-calling, narcissism, egotism, evading and sidestepping others points, etc. In short, obnoxious. Basically all of the NLT contributors I would consider to be open to honest, polite and serious debate and discussion, and the same goes with the vast majority of commenters, left AND right. I enjoy reading these "virtual" discussions. But you are not serious, and I’m going to stop reading your comments as they don’t deserve serious consideration.

As far as I can tell, Donald, I haven’t sidestepped any issues. What issues are you referring to?

As for my supposed narcissism, what exactly leads you to conclude that? Because I refuse to be bullied by poor arguments and sarcasm? I’m not sure I follow you...do you follow yourself?

Name-calling...sure, that goes on here...pretty common in fact, although I’m not aware of actually calling someone a s...head, a jerk, or anything like that. For instance, unlike Fung, I’ve never called anyone a "MF" on this blog before. Moreover, you will notice that my longer posts are supported by logic, science, and sometimes documentation. Name-calling is typically a tit-for-tat thing with me. Fung and I have a short (but vibrant) history!

I must conclude that you, like Dan above (see #8 above), have nothing of substance to add. I’m sorry that I frustrate you...liberals just aren’t used to getting doses of their own medicine. Don’t read my posts if they bother you...who cares? Certainly not me.

Dain- I found the article that you cited, and sure enough, you left out the most important parts! As I suspected, you have confused abstinence with abstinence-only programs. Your cited article does not survey the efficacy of programs, but rather it tracks a general decrease in teen pregancy. Then, it takes a retrospective (not experimental, but archival) look at possible influencing variables. My favorite part:

. The factors making the greatest contribution to the decline were an increase in abstinence and a decrease in the percentage of married teens.

So, miracle of miracles, abstinence reduces pregnancy. Another cause: A reduction in married teens! This is a bit like achieving a reduction in cavities by having fewer teeth!

Now, I have done a bit more searching and have found that neither you nor I have any great cause to trumpet clearly effective programs for reducing unwanted teen pregnancy, although my "education-centered" approaches seem to be slightly more effective at increasing the use of condoms among teens who are already sexually active.

Here is a bit of a well-researched summary by: Christopher, F. Scott, Family Relations, 0197-6664, October 1, 1995, Vol. 44, Issue 4
Database: Professional Development Collection

The results of the evaluations of the programs reviewed in this article can be summarized by looking at their effects on three critical variables: coital behavior, contraceptive practices, and pregnancy. Although the results from the national probability surveys have failed to show a consistent relationship between sex education and coital behavior, evaluations of actual primary intervention programs demonstrate some consistent patterns in their results. Youth who participated in a number of programs delayed their coital activity when compared to control groups. This result was true of adolescents in Zabin et al.’s (1986) multidimensional program and in three of the four theory-based programs (Howard & McCabe, 1990; Kirby et al., 1991), albeit in one of these it was true only of male participants (Eisen et al., 1990). Moreover, evaluations of only one program showed an increase in any type of sexual activity, Christopher and Roosa’s (1990) pure abstinence program. Even this result involved precoital behavior and failed to emerge as a significant finding in the replication of the first study. This finding is significant because one of the concerns that is often raised about sex education programs is that sexual knowledge will entice adolescents into coital activity (Orbuch, 1989). None of the evaluations to date have shown this effect.

Note, if you would, three points: first, the only program to show any signs of increased sexual activity as a result of the program was an abstinence-only program. Second, the findings thus far are not clear or clean, or well-understood, and third, the final sentence emphasizes my point about right-wing fears that education about sexual activity is equivalent to permission.

Now, about your claims that abstinence may be linked with longer marriages and higher incomes. First of all, as a social scientist, you understand the difference between correlation and causation. I am not surprised at all if your claims are valid. We already know that lower SES is one of the variables involved with unwanted pregnancy. Reasons: Correlations b/w SES and quality of education, presence of alternative activities, and finally, higher SES kids have greater access to abortion clinics, and thus report fewer pregnancies.

But, we should not be fooled into thinking that abstinence itself CAUSES higher incomes! I must remind you, again, of the difference between abstinence itself and a program to encourage abstinence. The only way to be certain about the causative effects of abstinence is to engage in an ethically and pragmatically difficult experiment. My concern (and apparently not yours) is with the relative efficacy of educational as opposed to abstinence-only Bob Dole just-don’t-do-it programs.

Now, about your claims that I am a hypocrite: There is nothing hypocritical about the confluence of values with research as long as the values don’t guide the factual reporting of method and result. The replicability and public nature of research, whether "basic" or "applied" allows for various interpretations and also for scientists to productively challenge each others’ results. So, if I want to engage in research that I hope will benefit my society, there is no hypocricy in that. AIDS and cancer research, polio research, depression, and aggression research, can all be done scientifically AND with an eye toward helping our fellow human beings. If you think that striving for human dignity and health means that a person cannot also engage in valid science, then that is your right, but I heartily disagree with you, and I also try very hard to embody the evidence that you are wrong.

Finally, you claim to understand my vision or my worldview, and then when my words are dissonant with YOUR view of my thoughts, you claim that I am a hypocrite. I respectfully suggest that you have no idea whatsoever about what goes on in my head. In fact, your ranting (above) about narcissism and hierarchy and use of your last name (huh?) along with your claim to be the object of bullying and sarcasm, indicate to me that you could spend some productive time introspecting a bit. From Sun Tzu to Patton, it has been a well known mistake to underestimate, or to claim complete knowledge of, your opponent. Your denigrating terminology leads me to believe that you think that you know the hearts and minds of the same liberals that you belittle and stereotype. I assure you that you do not.

Interesting the difference between your last post and your first one, Fung. At the beginning (Christian) conservatives were Philistine science-haters would stood in the way of children’s health. Now, after being confronted by someone who isn’t impressed by appeals to "science," you admit these programs are really a waste of time and money. I AGREE! I wasn’t ever talking about "programs," but about what matters...abstinence and the proper regulation of sexual behavior.

So, assuming abstinence is a good thing (more on that below), the real question is how to get teenagers to stay out of one another’s pants...yes? Since "programs," whether abstinence or abstinence-plus, don’t seem to have much effect (and yes, I’ve read some of the meta-analyses...this effects are tiny), what does, and why aren’t we making those factors into "programs?" Below is an article (one of many) that finds that religiosity tends to delay sexual activity. So, Fung, are you up for a little faith-based sex ed? No...why not? Well, I’ll tell you. Just as those "Texas rednecks" didn’t want condom vendors in the restrooms because it offended their cultural sensibilities, you don’t want Jesus in the classroom for the same reason...it would offend your cultural sensibilities (in short, screw science!)This is what I mean by "hypocrite."

Lammers, et al. 2000. "Influences on Adolescents’ Decision to Postpone Onset of Sexual Intercourse...." Journal of Adolescent Health 26:42-48.

The bottom line here is this...why would Christian conservatives betray there own "system" that works for a culturally-obnoxious system that doesn’t? Far from being the goons you portray them as, they are wise people. Now it may be true that sex ed doesn’t cause promiscuity, but it doesn’t seem to discourage it either. Who wants it?

You make good points about correlation and causation, so here’s a study that finds important unique effects of abstinence net of economic and educational background. Chew on that and get back to me.

Finger et al. 2005. "Associate of Virginity at Age 18 with Educational, Economic, Social and Health Outcomes in Middle Adulthood." Adolescent and Family Health 3, No. 4.

As for liberals being narcissists, etc., I guarantee I’ve had more exposure to liberals than you have had to conservatives. It’s not a label I throw around lightly, but one that comes from years of scratching my head trying to figure you folks out. How do you categorize people who place semblance over substance, motive over outcome, and the personal over the social? I don’t know if you are a stereotypical liberal, Fung, but when it walks like a duck....

Dain- I never said that the research suggests that these programs are a wast of time. I merely said that the current sum of the research reveals a muccy picture. There is a big difference between having a problem seeing, and seeing a problem. Right now, the research continues to show a slight advantage for education, as opposed to "just don’t do it, cause you’ll go to hell!" programs.

But, you are right, when the results of scientific studies appear equivocal, I will admit it. My point, however, which you seem to avoid, is that we have increased spending for the abstinence-only programs to the tune of 104 million, and there is not evidence that they work.

I hear your point, finally, that all you were claiming is that it is difficult to get pregnant without having sex. The same goes for STD’s. Thank you for that bulletin.

Christian conservatives are wise people? There is another news item! No exceptions at all?

Finally, as for exposure to the other conservatives: Have you been to Texas lately? They made us wear L patches, and we had to report in to the station chief whenever we left town. It was horrible, Dain!

I apologize for Fung’s typos. He was up late last night.

To be very truthful with you, I don’t trust social science all that much. Most researchers are ragingly liberal, and they DIG for the results they want...most of the time finding what they are looking for. So the fact that all these studies on sex ed demonstrate very tiny effects is very telling -- I suspect there is no effect whatsoever. When professors who vote for Nadar end up admitting that their pet programs (upon which their funding and prestige may rest) don’t accomplish a great deal, you know it’s BAD.

As for spending lots of money on abstinence-only sex ed, well...I’m conservative. I wouldn’t spend a nickel on it. I’d concentrate my efforts on what works...welfare reform that encourages couples to stay together and discourages having more babies, encouraging church attendance, awarding high-status for academic performance, and boosting economic growth where possible. I should add...busting the teachers’ unions.

In short, you can’t treat a symptom and hope to beat the infection. Although many social scientists have made good livings on evaluating one failed social program after another, two generations of this is enough. Time to return to basics.

Dain- I wish I had known earlier that you didn’t trust social science. I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of digging up those studies! I would have consulted my astrologist, instead.

As a psychologist, I have perhaps a higher tolerance for small-but-significant differences. We get a simple correlation of .25, with an r-squared of .96, and we jump for joy!

Happy 4th to everyone. Even Dain.

Fung meant an r-squared (proportion of the variance that is explained) of .06.

He really is tired. Converting right-wingers is hard work.

Yea, most of those individual-level analyses produce R2s of about.01...hoorah. Let’s spent zillions of dollars on a new social program.

There is SOME good social science out there, but I’m just too familiar with the actual process to respect it very much. It is far too politicized, and far too many people believe that the end justifies the means.

And I’m sure all that prevarication must be hard work -- particularly when us "rightwingers" are good at spotting BS. Fung...it’s much easier just to tell the truth. Come over to the good guys, before it’s too late!

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