Monday, May 12, 2008

New virginity pledge research?

I spoke with Time magazine today about virginity pledges. They asked me to summarize my past research, whether virginity pledges decrease sex, affect STDs, or affect the behaviors that adolescents engage in (e.g., substituting oral or anal sex), and for my assessment of the past studies published by Bearman and Brueckner, and also about the unpublished research of Rector. I have a paper on the subject under review, which I mentioned, but I wasn't sure what I could say about it.

She asked for the scientific consensus about virginity pledges and their effect on STDs and perhaps she later asked other outcomes, and these were hard questions to answer. Partly because in many cases there's only one relevant published study, and partly because my research touches on it but I can't talk about my research yet.

Speaking without a set agenda was surprisingly difficult. That is, I could answer her questions easily and I know that I gave valuable background information, but I didn't know whether I was giving her the quotes she needed. I didn't have well-prepared "take home messages" unfortunately.

I was happy that so many questions were easy to answer. E.g., the research which is not peer reviewed is not subject to the same scrutiny as all the other work out there. That was much easier to say than giving my off-the-cuff assessment of the research from my memory of it, especially since my only real comment about it is that I recalled there being more potential for multiple-comparison problems than other similar research, and that's not only speculative, but I have the feeling it's unprintable due to being boring.

Something which I'd never noticed before about journalists was how open-ended her questions were, such as what does it mean about virginity pledges that studies have found that pledgers and non-pledgers have similar STD risks. She asked very specific questions, breaking up the different effects that virginity pledges might have: what's the effect on X, and then later asked about Y. She also asked a few very open questions which allow speculation into how pledgers were thinking, where the answer of course has to be that we don't know what they're thinking, but there's always temptation to veer into speculative territory.

I did underline the seminal nature of the Mathematica Policy Research report on abstinence-only education, and that it was Congressionally-mandated. It sounded like this paper hadn't been part of their research prior to my mentioning it.

I wonder what event brought about this reexamination of virginity pledges, whether it was just the Congressional hearings at the end of April, or whether something else has happened. Something I just noticed is that Heritage's review of past abstinence education studies was released at the same time as the hearings, so there was no time to scrutinize it before the hearing. By contrast, the Cochrane review was published in late 2007, well before the late April hearings.

No comments: