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Thursday, December 02, 2004

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 Two reports slam Bush for politicizing science

Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA) has issued a report that contains a blistering indictment of some of the Bush Administration's dark-age values. Specifically, the Bush administration has been pushing SPRANS (Special Programs of Regional and National Significance Community-Based Abstinence Education), which dispenses $170 million per year to promote abstinence-only education that specifically and intentionally omits any mention of basic facts about sex and contraception other than "don’t do it."

The report shows how the abstinence-only program is rife with errors, outrageous lies, and a kind of Handmaid's Tale mentality that we should have discarded with the dark ages. Here's a summary:
The report finds that over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over two-thirds of SPRANS grantees in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health. Specifically, the report finds:
  • Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain False Information about the Effectiveness of Contraceptives. Many of the curricula misrepresent the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. One curriculum says that “the popular claim that ‘condoms help prevent the spread of STDs,’ is not supported by the data”; another states that “[i]n heterosexual sex, condoms fail to prevent HIV approximately 31% of the time”; and another teaches that a pregnancy occurs one out of every seven times that couples use condoms. These erroneous statements are presented as proven scientific facts.

  • Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain False Information about the Risks of Abortion. One curriculum states that 5% to 10% of women who have legal abortions will become sterile; that “[p]remature birth, a major cause of mental retardation, is increased following the abortion of a first pregnancy”; and that “[t]ubal and cervical pregnancies are increased following abortions.” In fact, these risks do not rise after the procedure used in most abortions in the United States.

  • Abstinence-Only Curricula Blur Religion and Science. Many of the curricula present as scientific fact the religious view that life begins at conception. For example, one lesson states: “Conception, also known as fertilization, occurs when one sperm unites with one egg in the upper third of the fallopian tube. This is when life begins.” Another curriculum calls a 43-day-old fetus a “thinking person.”

  • Abstinence-Only Curricula Treat Stereotypes about Girls and Boys as Scientific Fact. One curriculum teaches that women need “financial support,” while men need “admiration.” Another instructs: “Women gauge their happiness and judge their success on their relationships. Men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments.”

  • Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain Scientific Errors. In numerous instances, the abstinence-only curricula teach erroneous scientific information. One curriculum incorrectly lists exposure to sweat and tears as risk factors for HIV transmission. Another curriculum states that “twenty-four chromosomes from the mother and twenty-four chromosomes from the father join to create this new individual”; the correct number is 23.
The report finds numerous examples of these errors. Serious and pervasive problems with the accuracy of abstine nce-only curricula may help explain why these programs have not been shown to protect adolescents from sexually transmitted diseases and why youth who pledge abstinence are significantly less likely to make informed choices about precautions when they do have sex.

In a similar vein the Federation of American Scientists released a report yesterday indicting the politicization of science policy under the current regime. "Flying Blind: The Rise, Fall, and Possible Resurrection of Science Policy Advice in the United States" details the declining impact of scientific advice on US policymaking, and how to remedy the problem:

The President and the Congress are constantly confronted with decisions about new medical technologies, advanced weapon systems, wireless communication regulation, and other matters that hinge on technical facts. While technical analysis is almost never sufficient to make wise choices, absent competent, timely, targeted scientific and technical analysis, these decisions will depend on unchallenged assertions by special interests and ideologues. Programs are likely to be poorly designed and subject to costly mistakes. Even worse, lacking competent advice, the nation may fail to act on problems until they are costly and difficult to solve or fail to seize important opportunities to achieve public objectives in security, education, health care, the environment, or other critical areas. [emphasis mine]

If all of this sounds familiar, it should. In July the Union of Concerned Scientists released their own report detailing how the Bush Administration suppresses and distorts scientific knowledge and undermines scientific advisory panels.

Can you say Lysenkoism? I thought you could.

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