Know the Facts

How trusting are you? Do you believe the media? Do you believe the politicians? Do you think you are careful?

I came across an article recently, published in a major media outlet, that made some interesting claims. Specifically, it claimed a program in Colorado was responsible for significant drops in the teen birth (-40%) and teen abortion (-35%) rates there, and that a large budget savings resulted due to reduced healthcare and WIC costs. What’s not to like, whether you’re a social or fiscal conservative? I went to get more information so I could write it up for discussion.

The more I looked around, the more doubtful I became. Sure, I found the same numbers in other professional publications and the state website’s annoucement, but all instances were almost verbatim. I wanted the source data. They all linked to each other…and one study paper written by 3 state employees (the body of which is behind a paywall). I had enough to write it up, but something was bothering me.

It was when I went to gather data to compare to GA in my write-up that it all fell apart. It is said there are lies, damn lies and statistics, and this is a wonderful example of the last. Sure, Colorado had seen some nice improvements in the areas in question, but so had Georgia, and we don’t implement the main aspect of their program. In fact, practically every state had shown significant improvement over the same time period.

Interestingly, I found that almost every news source had quoted the study authors as saying that the initiative serves as a model for family planning coverage under the Affordable Care Act, despite no one making an effort to show the initiative had any causal impact at all in the improvements seen.

I decided to research other sources for the reason of decline for teen birth and teen abortion and found that a study performed by the CDC in particular says “reasons for the declines are not clear” (http://www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/aboutteenpreg.htm) and documents the widespread decline (with references).

That let me to conclude that given the widespread change in all states regardless of the existence or non-existence of any such initiative, we can say it is likely not the prime driver.

In this case, they had a lot of good data…and made a lousy conclusion. Reading and listening to others is great, but without thinking about what you are given, you leave yourself vulnerable. Investigate things for yourself. Endeavour to not just know facts, but to understand them.

–Will Frishe