13 December 2005

Canberra Times, dodgy uses of statistics and safe sex

| johnboy
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The Canberra Times has an interesting piece on safe sex amongst young people and calls for a testing regime.

This seems worthy enough. The more sex being had with no-one getting hurt seems to be a recipe for a better world.

But the article is troublesome. For a start teenagers can already get tested for STD’s if they choose to. Are they talking about a compulsory testing regime here? What is it that the road to hell is paved with again?

Then to justify this draconian proposal we have a dodgy use of statistics worthy of Alan Jones.

About one in two teens consumed more than the safe level of alcohol, about 22 per cent were affected by drugs or alcohol when they last had intercourse and almost 30 per cent had unwanted sex as a result.

How can 30% of teens be having unwanted sex as a result of the drugs and alcohol that only 22% are taking when they’re having it? Oh wait. They mean 7% of teens have had unwanted sex as a result of drugs and alcohol. They could have said 7%, but they said 30%. (7% is a concerning number in itself, but it aint 30%)

[UPDATED: And now the ABC have picked up and swallowed the bogus statistic]

It gets better. But along much the same lines.

About 67 per cent of adolescents were sexually active and nearly one in two never or occasionally used condoms

Is that one in two of the 67%? (34%?). Or do they mean that only 17% (67 less 50) of teens are having safe sex? (in which case they’ve buried the lead and lets assume they haven’t given they’re trying to scare our socks off). And while we’re on that statistic, how many of those kids were in a monogamous relationship and using birth control? (and don’t tell me sexually active teens don’t do monogamy).

More than 60 per cent had one sexual partner in the past six months, while 12 per cent had three or more partners.

So of the 67% of kids who claim to have ever got laid (a dubious statistic if ever there was) nearly half haven’t had any action in the last 6 months, and only 18% (12 of the 67) of them have slept with three or more partners in the last six months. Which is not a very high number for unattached adults (or even serial monogamists).

Are you following my drift here?

At the end of the day surely the real issue is how many STD’s are actually turning up?

The number 4% is used, but without making clear if that’s 4% of the total population, 4% of the population tested (i.e. those worried enough about the issue to seek a test), or 4% of the population who claim to be sexually active.

And then because 4% isn’t a very scary number and unlikely to create community demand for massive funding increases for Professor Frank Bowden they throw in a 30% (again, 30% of what guys?) number for the scary sounding Herpes Simplex.

Which, while not a good thing, is also known as cold sores. (See wikipedia entry on Herpes Simplex)

But hey, 30% of a scary word is a story!

But please, kids. If you can’t be good, be carefull.

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My parents probably regretted having unprotected sex!

reading the ABC thing the unwanted sex is just sex regretted afterwards.

who amongst us has never had regrets?

Nice one Thumper 🙂

Sounds like another one of those proposals that get rolled out, make an interesting read for a day then end up as fish and chips wrapping.

I get mandatory testing for sex workers (though I suspect you’ll find that they’re much safer than your average drunk in the pub) but for teens? Not unless there’s some new std you can get from masturbation that I’m not aware of.

67% my eye.

Oh Kent, you can prove anything with statistics – fourfteen percent of all people know that.

The problem is that, as far as I can tell, journalists don’t know squat about statistics, the general population know slightly less than that, and those of us that do have some grasp spend all our time trying to figure out what the other two groups are actually saying (as you have just done).

I don’t really know what the solution is…

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