Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Misrepresenting Numbers

Numbers are everywhere. We discussed these during the elections. There was post after post on poll numbers and their validity. While we are skeptical of poll numbers we tend to accept other numbers, like studies on social trends, as valid. We need to be more skeptical of those as well. And the first question we need to ask when we hear a number presented in an argument is, "Is that a big number?" Take Newt Gingrich's recent commentary in Business Week.

He has written in Business Week that adolescence "is a 19th century invention of the middle class to keep kids out of sweatshops" and that it is time to make them do real work. His article has some suspect statistics.

"The proof is all around us: 19% of eighth graders, 36% of tenth graders, and 47% of twelfth graders say they have used illegal drugs, according to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan. One of every four girls has a sexually transmitted disease, suggests a recent study for the Centers for Disease Control."

Firstly, my niece is 16 and she has more the 4 friends, none of whom I am sure carry an STD. I think he is misrepresenting these numbers, or he is presenting them in a way that makes them seem larger than they really are. Here is what I found at the Center for Disease Control regarding teen drug use. You be the judge. To me, the actual numbers are bit more complicated than he is presenting here. It really depends on how you count things, how you categorize things.

Then I went looking for info on STDS and teens. I found the March 2008 paper to which Mr. G refers. It does say that 1 in 4 young women have one of the 4 most prevalent STDs. That is different from "an STD". When you count four STDs vs. just one, then you will have higher numbers. If you count 10 STDs, then the number will be higher than it is with just 4. And if you throw boys into the mix, then hummm . . . how high is that? True, sexual activity among teens is a serious matter. But if you take Newt's "1 and 4" number, that translates that into 26%, or about 3 million women between the ages of 14-19. That is high, but the "1 in 4 number" makes it seem much higher.

Secondly, I don't think it is wise to compare today's youth to Ben Franklin and John Quincy Adams. That strikes me as a bit ridiculous. People also died at the age of 40 in those days and so, they started their productive and reproductive life early. So if Newt is in favor of ending adolescence, then the logical policy option would be to allow 14 year olds to vote, get married, and join the military, buy cigarettes and alcohol, and carry valid driver's licenses. We'd have to lower the age limits on running for public office.

Thirdly, I would point out to Mr. G that in the 19th century, children as young as 4were being killed in textile mills and coal mines. So he's right, people wanted to protect their children. But I'd question if it was the middle class. He is implying that the middle class in the 19th century was so poor that its children had to go to sweatshops to help put food on the table. And by implying we should go back to that type of situation, he is setting bar very low for what should count as the Middle Class. That tells you how the Republicans define the Middle Class. Does Newt really support going back to the industrial revolution? Does he really think that a defining trait of the middle class should be that we send children to work? Yikes!

You want to help youths? Bring back trade school and apprenticeships. Make trade school an option to public high school students. Fund schools so that they can revive their programs in auto mechanics, computer programming, engineering, resource management, and communications- the trades we need in this century! Teach youth that what they need to "be when they grow up" is "good, happy, hardworking, thinking people. That is first and foremost. Second, they need to find something useful that will earn them a living. But they also need to be flexible, and to know that if they aren't happy in their jobs, they can change. They can learn something new and find new, constructive ways to earn their living. In the 19th century you took on work, and were stuck at it for life. We have options today that allow is the wonderful opportunity to change our work as we change and grow. I studied political science. I loved it. But now, I am interested in computer science and I can go to junior college and learn about that. What a great thing!

Furthermore, if young people are to give up adolescence, if they are to be given a stake in this society, then old people ought to be made to retire and make room for the new generation of leaders.


Robert said...

I think there is definitely also a class and race issue here. Not with STDs, but a black woman is 4x more likely than a white woman to have an abortion.

Fixing this problem should also involve revitalizing low income neighborhoods. I agree providing jobs are part of the solution, but it can't just be McDonalds. It also needs to be higher quality jobs, for example green jobs, which also help fulfill the American dream...

monkeyman said...

I agree with most of what you say, but there's one point when I think you misrepresent the numbers yourself. If 25% of women have one out of the 4 most prevelant STDs, then more than 25% of women will have just any STD. Your post sounds (to me) like suggesting that less than 1 out of 4 women have any STD.

monkeyman said...

Another thing: I think in your last paragraph you lay out a nice program for becoming poorer as a society. If young people work earlier and old people retire earlier then we replace highly trained workers/employees by poorly trained labor. If we would decide to start working earlier, then this should be in addition to the current workers; in this case there would be a trade-off between producing more today and being better educated later. I don't think this should be done, but I very much think it beats your proposal.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The four disesases mentioned in the study are "human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, herpes simplex virus, and trichomoniasis." esults of a nationally representative study show that genital herpes infection is common in the United States.

Here's what the CDC says about HSV.

"Nationwide, at least 45 million people ages 12 and older, or one out of five adolescents and adults, have had genital HSV infection. Over the past decade, the percent of Americans with genital herpes infection in the U.S. has decreased.

Genital HSV-2 infection is more common in women (approximately one out of four women) than in men (almost one out of eight). This may be due to male-to-female transmission being more likely
than female-to-male transmission."

In other words, the teenage rate of STD is no different than that of their parents' generation. Given that more adults than teens are in long-term committed relationships, this is an interesting finding.

USwest said...

asking people to retire by age 70 is not really asking them to retire early, but rather, on time. Society functions on the notion of cycles. Old cycle out, new cycle in. When less than productive 70 year olds sit in offices, they prevent younger people from moving up or taking responsibility. I was not indicating that 50 somethings should leave the workforce, nor do I really think that 14 years should be in the workforce. I was being sarcastic in my closing remarks in the post.

Rob, I agree that lurking in those numbers, provided they are accurate (The Bush Adminsiration has made a point of altering research that has appeared on teh CDC website, as well as research on other government sites for political purposes), are signs of race and poverty.

Not all teens are interested in going to college and they do need somethig more or better than Mickey Dees. So trade schools and and such need to be part of the mix.

USWest said...

Oh, and yes, my logic was bad on the 1 and 4 thing. My main point, had I quit when I was ahead, was that the more STDs you count, the higher the number will go. How you *present* this information provides the spin. If you only say 1 in every 4 girls without the proper definitions, you color people's impressions.

monkeyman said...

UsWest, thanks for clarifying. I did not catch your sarcasm, so I actually did think you want 50-somethings to retire.

By the way, although it doesn't quite belong here: I've been following this blog for a little while now, and you and the other citizens have been doing a great job. Thanks!

The Law Talking Guy said...

You know what's really bizarre? Gingrich says "Adolescence was invented in the 19th century to enable middle-class families to keep their children out of sweatshops." If true, what is the motivation for reversal? Do we want our kids in sweatshops? Are the jobs available to 14-year-olds today so terrific? No, they are clerks, janitors, all sorts of menial labor that they should, instead, be studying in school so they can rise above later.

Gingrich is wrong. Adolescence was always available as a training period for the upper class (who did not need economic productivity, just sufficient skill to take over the manor or business later), but was not extended to other classes until the late 19th century.

Now, why would middle class families want to do this if
the children were really little adults who would benefit from being in the workforce? The answer is that the 19th century middle class families were right, and so are we now.

The best outcomes in terms of education and income come from those who delay procreation. This is even more critical for women. The way to delay procreation is to delay adulthood and sexually repress teenagers. That was the Victorian strategy. The main difference between the middle and lower classes is the age of procreation. Longer generations ensure more success.

In the late 20the century, with the advent of birth control, we were able to shift away from sexual repression - with all its harmful effects - to prevention of pregnancy. Conservatives still prefer good old-fashioned repression.

If Gingrich were right and we returned to working at 13, this would impoverish the middle class both economically and intellectually. Since he's a conservative, I suspect that is his goal. A period of prolonged adolescence for teenagers allowed them the mental and economic space in college to effect the great social revolutions of the 1960s that Gingrich despises. Also it is those young people who elected Barack Obama.

Gingrich also is a shitty economist. If you added millions more young people to the workforce, all it would do is add to unemployment for those with families to support.

USwest said...

LTG, my thoughts exactly!

thanks, Monkeyman for the kudos! Keep reading!