Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Let's Stack BBs

It will be interesting to learn more about this:

CHICAGO - Laws that would require parents to be notified when teens seek birth control would do little to curb underage sex and could cause a troubling number of girls to engage in unsafe intercourse, a survey of teens in 33 states suggests.

Let's discuss the merits of the findings first (having access only the abstract of the January 19 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association -- JAMA -- puts me at a disadvantage, but I'll simply speculate now).

Who conducted the survey? The Alan Guttmacher Institute, which, as the AP notes is "an advocacy group that supports reproductive choice." Trick Question: Would a similar survey by the National Right-to-Life Committee get such media play? Doubtful, even if the survey were also published in JAMA.

Two nuggets in the AP story caught my eye

First, note what the AP does not say:

The results, based on responses from 1,526 girls under the age of 18 who were given anonymous questionnaires, echo smaller, more local studies.

Here is what the JAMA abstract notes:

Design, Setting, and Participants  A total of 1526 female adolescents younger than 18 years seeking reproductive health services at a national sample of 79 family planning clinics were surveyed between May 2003 and February 2004.

Why did the AP omit the fact that only girls at clinics were surveyed?

Second, note what the AP does say:

Some girls checked more than one response when queried about the laws.

Why is this important?

Two reasons.

First, this could skew the statistics of the survey in a way that is easily manipulated for the media press releases, i.e. smoke and mirrors -- maybe a girl said X and Y, but only X is reported in the press release (again, we don't know until we can read the JAMA article in its entirety).

Second, and this is even more important, folks who are in this biz know that the press release is all that the public remembers. They won't remember (or will be less likely to have even heard) any follow-up articles which tackle the inadequacies of the research.

Blogs are helpful here, but we're all busy and there are only 24 hours in a day.

So, advocacy groups will advocate, i.e. they will trumpet press releases knowing that is what is engrained in the mind of the public long after (possibly) refuted research.

For a closing laugher, check out this press release headline:


You don't say.

Guess that's why they call them Advocacy Groups.