Category Archives: Culture War

Mathematical Malpractice Watch: IUDs and Teens

Right now, the liberal blogosphere is erupting over Republican plans to not fund a program to give free IUDs to low income women:

Republican legislators in Colorado will not authorize funding for a program that gives free IUDs to low-income women — an effort that many believe was responsible for hugely driving down teen births.

Colorado has recently experienced a stunning decline in its teen birth rate. Between 2007 and 2012, federal data shows that births declined 40 percent — faster than any other state in the country.

State officials attributed part of this success to the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which provided free IUDs to low-income women seen at 68 family planning clinics across the state. Last year, state officials estimated that young women served by those family planning clinics accounted for about three-fourths of the overall decline in Colorado’s teen birth rate.

I disagree with the Republicans on this. But the idea that free IUD program cut Colorado’s teen birth rate by 40% or 3/4 of 40% or anywhere close to 40% is high-test nonsense.

Here is the data from the CDC on teen brith rates. From the first graph, you’ll see that teen birth rates have been steadily falling for seventy years. Like most positive social trends, it has many, um, parents, each of which are flogged by whomever supports that particular issue. Availability of contraception has certainly played a role. The legalization of abortion played a role (although abortion rates peaked in the early 80’s). As social and professional barrier have fallen, many more women are delaying pregnancy for college and jobs. And there is some evidence that teenagers are waiting longer to have sex (that would be the dreaded “abstinence”).

Since 2007, however, the teen birth rate has fallen off a cliff. But not just in Colorado. It’s fallen everywhere, by an average of 30%. If anything, it’s fallen faster in red states than in blue ones (see Figure 9 of the CDC’s report). Colorado has seen the steepest decline (39%), but just behind it are the red states of Arizona (37%), Georgia (37%), North Carolina (34%), Utah (34%) and Virginia (33%).

Is Colorado’s IUD program so awesome that it dropped the teen birth rate for the entire country?

Given the extent of the program and Colorado having the largest reduction, it’s very probable that the IUD program did play a role here. But I would ballpark it at maybe 10% at the most.1 That’s not nothing and it’s probably worth continuing the program. But let’s not pretend the reduction is due only to that.

So what is causing the large reduction? Availability of contraception is playing a role, yes, but there’s something else going on. Birth rates have fallen for all women since 2007, not just teenagers. I don’t think it’s coincidence (and neither does the CDC) that the teen birth rate plunged when we hit the worst recession since the Great Depression. If you look at historical birth rates, you’ll see a similar plunge in during the 1930’s. And that was long before almost the entirety of modern birth control, least of all free birth control.

I think that’s the story here. Colorado’s program was fortuitously timed in that regard and there is likely some synergy between the economic downturn and the IUD program (i.e., the program kicked in right when a bunch of women were more eager for birth control).

One of the difficult things about Mathematical Malpractice Watch is that I frequently end up attacking people I fundamentally agree with. I think Colorado should extend their IUD program (although I’m old enough to remember, in the 90’s, when Republican governors offering incentives for low-income women to use Norplant was denounced as eugenics). But the claim that it has produced a “huge” reduction in the teen birth rate is just not true.

Actually, there is a chance that the effect is 0%. Colorado had the sharpest reduction in teen pregnancy rates. It’s easy to go in, post facto, and identify a pet policy to pin it on while ignoring the thousand other factors occurring in fifty states. It’s called the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. Colorado might just be a statistical outlier and we’re crediting a policy for that outlierness because we like the policy. Colorado’s barely two standard deviations from the mean. I think it’s likely the IUD fund had an effect, but I’d be pressed to prove it statistically.

Tuesday Linkorama

  • Paul Ryan and the Republicans appear to be backing down on DADT. About time.
  • Apparently, there is a new blood test that could detect some types of cancer.
  • Yeah, I never thought much of the writing fever approach to teaching writing skills. You learn to play music by learning scales. You learn writing by learning vocabulary, grammar and sentence construction.
  • A fascinating profile of one of the CIA’s operatives. What’s telling is precisely why we provide aide to loathsome regimes.
  • Hmmm. Kids getting their grandparents’ Holocaust tattoos.
  • Friday Linkorama


  • I encountered this problem with my own child. Some pediatricians are simply obsessed with child growth charts, even to the point of stupidity. We had one pediatrician — who we quickly dumped — freak out because Abby was supposedly way too short for age. It turned out they’d put her height in as centimeters instead of inches. It was simply bizarre watching this medical professional insist that our daughter, one of the tallest in her class, was dangerously short. We quickly switched to one who uses the charts for reference but is not defined by them.
  • The most telling part of this story, about Iran banning women from certain college majors, is the note that Iranian women were massively outperforming their male counterparts. Can’t have that, can we?! Looks like the Islamists are figuring out what the Communists did: when you educate a person, they are halfway to freedom.
  • I’m of two minds about peoples who have not contacted civilization. On the one hand, I don’t like forcing civilization on people. On the other, there seems a bit of condescension in the “don’t disturb their culture” mentality.
  • This article, in which Megan McArdle argues that we like to be conned, seems dead accurate to me. Gregg Easterbrook has made the same argument. Bubbles don’t happen because people are stupid. Bubbles happen because people are greedy. They know, deep down, it’s an illusion; but they keep hoping the roof won’t cave in on them.
  • Aussie Linkorama

    A linkorama as I board a plane:

  • This report on how Apple products are made seems to answer its own question. The reason iphones are not made in this country is that Americans have better options than working 12 hour days and living in company-owned dormitories.
  • Fortunately, the faction of the GOP questioning whether gays should adopt is small. Unfortunately, they are engaged in extremely bad policy. Every piece of research available shows that gays make fine parents. They don’t even turn their kids gay.
  • Mind. Blown.
  • I’m unsurprised by the latest CBO study that shows that federal employees are better paid than private peers (especially when you factor in benefits) and that that advantage tapers with education level.
  • New research casts some light on the Little Ice Age. As I’ve said, massive climate changes happen for a reason.
  • Monday Lunch Talk Linkorama

    Non-Political Links:

  • Cracked again. I particularly like the new grasshopper and ant version.
  • Heh.
  • Political Links:

  • The FDIC fantasizes that they could have prevented the financial crisis. Funny. And about as realistic as me fantasizing that I really could have scored with the prom queen back in high school.
  • Expect to see this on Maggie McNeil’s site. I don’t think there’s no sex trafficking in the UK. But this is a solid piece of evidence that the problem is severely overblown. And it could, of course, be better addressed, if we redirected resources away from consenting adults.
  • The latest from the porn front: women are increasingly watching it. So the experts tell us this must be some addiction depersonalization OMG thing, not just … you know … women liking porn. And the LA libraries make some sensible decisions when it comes to privacy vs. filtering.
  • Wednesday Linkorama

    Lots of non-political links today!

  • PJ has the last word on the tiger mom thing.
  • A wonderful photo essay of history’s biggest cities. Personally, I’m hoping the next picture in the chain is Mare Tranquilitatis City.
  • The latest on the to breed or not to breed question. Told you those sociologists were bullshit.
  • For some reason, this photo essay makes me feel almost patriotic. Americans are almost proud to be ridiculous. #51 is my favorite.
  • Political Links:

  • The latest from the food grabbers.
  • In the end, they’ll realize that gay marriage is a conservative thing.
  • I keep asking this: what is the point of Democrats if they’re just going to out-police-state Republicans?
  • All right. I give up. When Mann fucking Coulter is the voice of reason, we are REALLY in trouble.
  • Epistemic Closure Watch

    Two examples — one from the Right, one from the Left — are indicative of one of the biggest problems in politics today — the refusal to withdraw bogus arguments from the debate.

    First, the Right. Hot Air approvingly posted video of two senators ganging up on Barbara Boxer on the subject of “global cooling”, getting her to admit this was a theory in the 1970’s.

    This is a perfect example of what I’ve come to call the Global Cooling Acid Test. In the 1970’s, global warming theory was maturing. For a brief period, however, the existing data indicating a potential cooling trend. Some scientists thought this might be due to aerosols in the air. The alternative theory grabbed some headlines because of a potential Ice Age. But it was never consensus science. Global warming theory was much more widely accepted.

    This point is so clear and so well-documented that there is no reason to keep bringing it up. And frankly, even if global cooling had been consensus science, we’ve had 40 more years of data — including all of the satellite data — to support global warming theory. Using global cooling to debunk global warming — even if global cooling had been consensus, which it wasn’t — is like using the failure of the ether theory to debunk relativity. Or the nebular theory to debunk Galactic evolution. Old theories are replaced by better ones when better data come about.

    There are legitimate criticisms of AGW theory — the quality of the temperature data, the dendrochronology data and the ability of models to predict the future. And, indeed, these are the criticisms real skeptics focus on. But global cooling is not a legitimate criticism.

    (Nor, it seems is Climategate, which even James Inhofe’s requested investigation has concluded does not debunk climate change, although it does show arrogance, presumption and sloppy work on the part of key climate scientists — enough, in my opinion, to warrant hesitation on economy-changing carbon schemes.)

    I find the use of Time and Newsweek covers to “prove” that global cooling was consensus to be particularly hilarious. These magazines have a long history of panic-mongering cover stories that turn out to be complete garbage (or maybe I missed the great Pokemon massacres of the last decade).

    The global cooling thing does brush against something more germane — the 1970’s and 80’s panic about overpopulation, which was (a) consensus science; (b) the source of numerous and sometimes horrific proposals for changing human society; (c) as early as 1980, obviously wrong. In fact, it’s a big reason why I remain skeptical of long-term climate projections.

    But it’s a little harder to draw the connection between people extrapolating population growth and a scientific theory now supported by the preponderance of evidence. Moreover, it’s not on the list of talking points and global cooling is.

    In the AGW debate, the mention of global cooling is a sign that someone isn’t paying attention — that they have a list of talking points they like to run through and no amount of debunking is going to pull things off that list.

    The Left is not immune to this, however. Charles Johnson, reasonably bashing Republicans for including poison control centers in their list of budget cuts (although it behooves me to point out that PCC’s were not federally funded until 2000), has his list of items in the Republican Party’s “War on Women”. Here’s the list

    Trying to defund Planned Parenthood

    Trying to redefine rape to deny abortion funding

    Trying to pass laws that would require investigations of all miscarriages

    Trying to pass laws that would legalize killing abortion providers

    Trying to define ‘human life’ to begin with a fetal heartbeat

    Calling two fetuses as ‘witnesses’ to anti-abortion hearings

    Trying to pass laws to outlaw federal funds for contraceptives

    Trying to pass laws that would allow hospital ERs to let women die rather than provide abortions.

    Some of these are true — the GOP has tried to cut PP’s funding and one legislature wants to outlaw abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected (and did indeed call two fetuses as “witnesses”). They have tried to cut family planning and birth control plans for poor people. And their proposal would have taken the conscience provision that allows federally funded hospitals to refuse to provide abortions and extended it to refusing to provide them in emergency situations. I’m opposed to most of this, to varying degrees. Almost all of it is unlikely to become law; but it does represent bones being thrown to an increasingly influential and deranged radical religious wing of the Party.

    But others are wild exaggerations. For example, the GOP did not try to “redefine rape” — they tried to change what the federal government would fund abortions for. Rape, the crime, is defined by state law. Rape, what the government will pay for an abortion for, is defined by the feds. I thought was really stupid and offensive, but it was not “redefining rape”. And it’s ridiculous and inflammatory to keep referring to it as such. “Tried to cut abortion funding for rape victims” is perfectly accurate and conveys what they tried to do. We can do without the bullshit.

    The miscarriage law is indeed real and is indeed stupid. On the other hand, it is not exactly a GOP party platform plank. It’s being proposed by one stupid Georgia state senator who has tried and failed to get abortion outlawed at every session. Branding it as part of a GOP “war on women” is the flip side of Republicans insisting that AGW theory is a plot to destroy capitalism. Yes, there are some people using AGW to advance statist ideas. And yes there is at least one Republican who wants to outlaw miscarriage. But every party has their ignorant dipshits; do we need to let them define the debate?

    Finally, we get to what provoked this post — the charge that Republicans want to legalize the killing of abortion doctors. This is the sort of claim that is a litmus test for partisan derangement. People who hear it and immediately say, “Oh my God, we’ve got to stop this!” have failed. Success is earned by saying, “really?!” and then finding out, as one blogger did, that this is simply not true. (And even it were, the likelihood that it would pass the legislature and be accepted by the Courts is zero.)

    But I guarantee you that it will continue to show up in “War on Women” posts just as global cooling continues to show up on “Global Warming is false” posts. Because the people who write these posts do not care about the debate — they care about bashing “the enemy”.

    The difference between rational debate and demagoguery is that the rational debaters — and there are many — will admit when an argument they have used is bogus. I know these arguments intimately with global warming because I used to make many of them myself. But the demagogue really doesn’t give a shit. He has his list of talking points and he will stick to them. No matter what.

    Tuesday Linkorama

    Non-Political Links

  • Jesus, what the hell is wrong with people?
  • For once, I agree with Richard Dawkins. Our society’s bizarre obsession with rules and the mindless enforcement therefore is bizarre and damaging.
  • A stunning picture of Christchurch after the earthquake hit. Christchurch is a lovely town and I had the best lamb vindaloo ever there. Hopefully, they’ll be back on their eet soon.
  • I have no idea if this is a reasonable response to Wired’s latest hysteria. But it’s something that should be looked at, right?
  • Political Links:

  • Rick Santorum: please just go away.
  • Remember: according to trial lawyers and their dog-washers, there is no such thing as defensive medicine.
  • I’m really starting to like Maggie McNeill’s blog on prostitution. Last week, she had a harrowing interview of a woman who endured horrific abuse. Today, she debunks the Dallas’ authorities self-congratulation on having stopped the non-existent wave of prostitution that didn’t hit the Super Bowl. Honestly, I think the biggest reason government exists is so that people can pat themselves on the back.
  • Things I like about Barack Obama: he waited until after the Americans had fled Libya to denounce the regime.
  • I always knew I hated corn ethanol, I just didn’t know how much.
  • The amazing Radley Balko has another dispatch on why mandatory minimum sentences are a bad idea.
  • An Op-ed from one of the Koch brothers. My god, what extremists!
  • Monday Linkorama

    Sorry. All politics today.

  • Lenore Skenazy lays into the panic-driven CSPA.
  • A federal judge rules that cheerleading is not a sport. Ignoring, for the moment, the Title IX implications, this is asinine. Whatever one may think of cheerleading, the college level has grueling training, judged competitions and a higher injury rate than most contact sports. To me, that makes it a sport.
  • Boy, these sex offender registries just keep getting better and better, no? Can’t they give him a “I’m not a pedophile” card or something?
  • And this mosque business sure brings out the stupid, doesn’t it?
  • A long story on the Phoebe Prince case. I ache for her parents, but I’m not comfortable with the criminal charges being leveled. I’m not sure if I believe everything in the article, but it’s clear we weren’t told the entire story.
  • Are bans on conflict diamonds making the situation better or worse? I honestly don’t know what to believe here, despite my inclinations against sanctions. Life is so much easier when I don’t have to think.
  • Glenn Greenwald lays into the media for attacking the blogosphere again.
  • Friday Linkorama

    Non-political links first:

  • This is absurd. Law schools are deliberately inflating grades to make their students more competitive. Where does it stop? What happens when every student is Maxima Cum Laude with a 5.0 GPA?
  • They are still digging bodies out of the WTC.
  • Awesome and inspiring story.
  • Political links:

  • I’m not surprised that the author of “Party of Parasites” collects farm subsidies.
  • I never thought I’d call Thomas Sowell a hack, but … well. It’s so depressing to watch so many conservative icons go off the deep end. And for all the Republicans going into hysterics about Obama being a dictator, here is Foreign Policy, to remind us of what a dictator is really like.
  • The tiny DC Vouchers program was a success. So naturally, one of the first things Obama did was kill it. The prose here does not quite capture how much this angers me.
  • It’s amazing how silent all the global warming bad skeptics are on the latest temperature measures.
  • Oh, or Christ’s sake. The Food Grabbers are after happy meals now, bouyed by their imposition of calorie counts on menus — an innovation that … um … increased caloric intake actually. I’m sure that toys draw kids to buy McDonald’s. However, I think it’s very likely that it’s drawing them away from other fast food joints, not platters of asparagus. Where to go for fries is the kids’ choice; whether to go for fries it the parents’ choice.
  • Thursday Linkorama

  • Wow. That’s a long way to go for a cup of tea.
  • Well. At least the Boomer are coming clean on how badly they’ve screwed us.
  • Rush Limbaugh: not an elitist. No sir.
  • When Tom Coburn is the voice of reason, we’re in trouble.
  • A preview of what lies ahead for the nation? Massachusetts healthcare plan is producing early fights over insurance rates and people gaming the system.
  • This is just plain mean. Shame on them.
  • Philly takes some smart steps in ramping down the war on drugs.
  • Ten years later, Fidel Casto is still milking Elian Gonzalez for propaganda.
  • Midweek Linkorama

  • Chili grenades? Chili grenades.
  • Stripper week continues on the blog with this story about Iceland banning the practice. This is being proclaimed as a great victory for feminism, but I don’t see that taking away women’s freedom — even if it’s the freedom to “degrade” themselves – and probably forcing them into illegal activity, is progress.
  • A fun story about the First Seder in the White House. I wonder how the Demented Right will square this with their vision of Obama as an Israel-hating Muslim.
  • Radley Balko has a point. Why doesn’t the public have a fraction of the outrage over real killings and bloodshed committed in the name of the War on Drug as they do about a brick thrown through a politician’s window?
  • Barack Obama and the Democrats kept abstinence-only education funding in the healthcare bill. Because what this country really needs to bring our healthcare bills down is a bunch of pregnant teenagers. And I thought I was snarked out on that subject.
  • You know the thing I hate about being a libertarian? Being right all the time. For the last decade, we warned that states were spending beyond their limits and creating a fiscal time bomb. We were right. Again.
  • More on the Godwinizing of the Tea Party.
  • Some legal humor from one of my favorite judges.
  • Politically Incorrect Linkorama

  • Is diversity training a sham? It wouldn’t surprise me at all. But I’d never admit it in print.
  • OK, I’ll admit it. I read this article because someone linked it up as an article about strippers. But, if you can get by the author’s decolletage, it’s a very fascinating article about how Massachusetts law is making life more difficult for strippers in the name of helping them. (It also confirms that my acquaintance who stripped her way through college and into law school was not unique. And no, she was a friend of a friend. I didn’t meet her in a professional context.)
  • I’m cooking up a post, not sure for which site, that would infuriate my old feminist philosophy professor. It may be a while, but I’ll link up this story, about the myth that sex slaves are pulled in for sporting events. What’s amazing is how many members of the religious right and feminist left will respond to this story with dismay — i.e., they’ll be disappointed that there is not a severe sex slave problem that they need to agitate about.
  • Was our War on Fat misguided? I find this especially interesting given an article I read last week about scientists mis-using statistics. We’ve seen this pattern from the Food Grabbers. Ten years ago, we all had to substitute trans fats into our diet. Now we have to get rid of them. Ten years from now they’ll be back. Personally, I think our evolved bodies are too kludgey for strict dietary rules.
  • Speaking of bad science, this sounds like hand writing analysis for the 21st century.
  • OK, enough political incorrectness. Back to plain old BS.

  • Ireland is cutting bureaucrat pay to balance their budget. There is no chance such a thing could happen in this country.
  • The massive epidemic of bad public defenders seems a case of being penny wise and pound foolish. A competent defenders would keep innocent people out of prison and keep appeals from dragging out, saving money in the long run.
  • Hugo Chavez takes Sean Penn’s advice and arrests the owner of the last free television station in Venezuela.
  • I can’t stand Ann Coulter. But I find the Canadian restrictions on free speech even more offensive.