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July 21, 2009


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Greg Q

Abstinence-only sex education programs are well-taxpayer--funded at the federal, state, and international level. And they don’t work, either for HIV prevention or pregnancy prevention.

You repeat that claim several times. Do you have an actual site to back that claim up, or is it just such "common sense" that it doesn't need any research?

Because my memory is that the research showed that "pro-abstinence" sex education programs do at least as well as the "screw everything you want, just wear a condom" approach.

And are you simply talking about sex ed classes whose sole content is "don't do it"? Or are you talking about classes that that teach everything, while saying "the best method of birth control and STD prevention is to not have sex"?


The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite. It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system -- ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.
Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

Eric Kendall

The belief that science can be used to “rationally” rule society is a conceit. Science will not de-politicize politics. But as we’ve already seen, however, politics will politicize science.

Richard Swan

The primary thing to remember is that scientists are human too. And humans can pervert the vaunted "scientific process" to come up with predetermined results. Too many people claim that science can't be perverted and use that to not only bludgeon people who disagree with their preferred political solutions to the problem but to shut down research that might prove the original problem was not a problem at all.


I believe Marxism is about the application of science to the governance of society. I also believe that the Nazis attempted to use science to control their society. The problem is that politicians attempt to justify their actions with science. Science and politics do not mix.

Jeffrey Smith

I think you are confusing Head Start (a federal program) with the Perry Preschool program (a small program in Ypsilanti Michigan) whose experimental (more or less) evaluation is often used to justify funding for Head Start, even though the two programs are very different. This is not to say that Head Start has a great evaluation track record; it does not. But they are different programs with different issues.

The Job Corps might actually serve as a better example, as it has a halo of good karma about it and has its very own experimental evaluation showing that while it has some positive effects on earnings (a rarity for youth programs) it does not come close to passing a social cost-benefit calculation for most groups.


Aside from the detour into sex ed (I believe I've read a study recently showing that Greg O above is correct), your post is very interesting and puts into words a notion I've had, mainly that it's ridiculous to attribute "science" some noble, impartial quality when the people who claim the mantle of "scientist" in a debate are often at least as partial and ignoble as their opponents.

The case Buchanan v. Worley is of particular interest. It would be nice to see it become a counter-meme if Obama's declaration catches on. Not to invoke Godwin's Law too readily, but there *have* recently been societal regimes that couched their raison d'etre in scientific terms, and I don't think many today consider their accomplishments worthy of imitation.


"I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy."
-Richard Feynman

I'm a physicist myself (albeit hardly one of Feynman's achievments or stature in the community), and I've recognized that scientists make rather poor leaders of nations. That's because that something we scientists have a hard time understanding is that in policy decisions, none of the variables are controlled. This means that when it comes to policy, all of us are smarter than any of us. In science, on the other hand, it only takes one person with the evidence to support their claim to completely overturn centuries of accepted knowledge (the classic "It's not what we don't know that's the problem - it's what we know that just isn't so" issue). One only need look at the societies that claimed the mantle of scientific planning, and the bloodbaths they perpetrated (on their own citizens, or on outsiders as defined by the state), all across the 20th Century, to recognize that. Any historian could tell us better people to pick for political leadership than a scientist.

Plumb Bob

Regarding abstinence education, you should read this article.

"In a survey of more than 100 studies covering the past 20 years of research in the social sciences, the Institute for Research and Evaluation concluded that “…when measured by the same standards of effectiveness, comprehensive sex education programs in America’s classrooms do not show more evidence of success than abstinence education programs.” Quite the contrary, in fact: when the criteria applied to the programs include measurements of changed behavior lasting more than a year following teens’ program participation, practically none of the comprehensive sex education (CSE) programs produced any measurable change, whereas at least three of the abstinence programs sustained significant reduction in teen sexual activity more than a year after the teens finished the program."

Abstinence education actually does work, some. Comprehensive sex education does not, and receives far more funding. And the general misinformation regarding the two, illustrates why it's not a great idea to try to let "science" rule policy -- because in fact, it's the beliefs of the policy-makers that end up ruling science. Research tells us things we need to know, but partisans see in the research only what they expect to see. There is no cure for this, it's the human condition. That's why a small government, limited by checks and balances and affecting as little as possible, is the best approach.

Plumb Bob

Oops, the link didn't make it.

Read THIS article:

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