Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bad porn science

I hate bad science. What I really hate is someone using a thin patina of scienceyness to push some sort of political agenda. That's when people either cherry-pick data to support their position, or produce some ideological-driven "study." John Bambenek did that a few months ago, when he tried (and failed) to produce studies that showed sex caused depression in girls. Two of the studies directly contradicted in their text the very conclusion he was drawing, and the third wasn't even a credible study. I suspect Bambenek has not changed his position on this matter, showing it is ideologically driven and not rational.

Recently, a study is being flogged around by the press about internet porn addiction. Porn addiction is apparently about to destroy society. The study was run by Christianet.com, which claims to be the "most-visited Christian website in the world." The addiction results have been reported by mainstream news sites (here, here, and here) and Christian news sites (e.g. here, here, and here). Gay bloggers have also picked it up; both Pam's House Blend and Wayne Besen have commented on it.

Here's what the study says:

The poll results indicate that 50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography," said Clay Jones, founder and President of Second Glance Ministries whose ministry objectives include providing people with information which will enable them to fully understand the impact of today's societal issues. 60% of the women who answered the survey admitted to having significant struggles with lust; 40% admitted to being involved in sexual sin in the past year; and 20% of the church-going female participants struggle with looking at pornography on an ongoing basis.

Fifty percent of men are addicted to porn? Not just that they look at it, but they're actually addicted to it? That's an absolutely ridiculous statistic. If I told you that half of all men were addicted to heroin, you'd look at me with a "What you talking about, Willis?" look on your face. It's absurd on the face of it. What pisses me off is that this statistic is being reported without even a shred of skepticism.

So I thought that maybe the press was picking this up and making more of it than it really was or just flat-out misunderstanding it, as reporters often do with anything having to do with science. So I went looking for this study. What did I find? Crickets chirping. Nothing.

First, I went to Christianet.com. This place hardly qualifies as a website at all. It's an Internet portal. How very 1998. It's mostly a collection of links to things like "Christian Home Loans" and "Meet Christian Singles." Their Blogs section is a hoot, too. Each blog entry consists of roughly two lines of text, plus a link to some other section of their site and an offer to send an e-card.

It turns out that this thing everyone is citing is an internet poll, not any sort of study. There's no information about what questions were asked, how people responded, or even what qualifies as internet port "addiction." I have the suspicion that the people running this poll would consider Michelangelo's David to be Renaissance porn.

I tried to find more information about the poll on their website. Not only isn't there any mention of it on the Christianet website that I can find, there's no contact information for anyone at Christianet. Absolutely zero. No email address, no "Contact us" page. I wrote the admin in the WHOIS entry, but no response.

What's almost worse than this thing getting this level of attention is that it's being looked at with complete credulity. Even though it concluded that half of all men have this addiction, no one even batted an eye. In fact, people mostly just seemed to find it amusing that Christian evangelicals were caught in a bit of hypocrisy. The Stuff article called them "porn-again Christians." (OK, I admit I got a laugh out of that.)

This is how things get caught up in our collective consciousness. Someone reads about this poll in a news article on some website, but no one ever looks up the details. It gets generally accepted as true, even though it's just propaganda from one small group with an axe to grind.

13 comments:

John Bambenek said...

Oh I produced studies... they simply were not zeitgeist approved sources so you immediately discounted them.

You're one to talk about cherry-picking.

Narc said...

No, Mr. Bambenek, you produced three studies. One was was only vanity-published and came from an ideologically-driven source. The other two were real papers, but specifically rejected in the text of the paper the conclusion that you drew. Which suggests you had already decided on your conclusion and were only looking for sources to support it. That's not how science works, but it is how politics works. To do real science, you have to be willing to consider the possibility that your theory is wrong and come at the data at least with an attempt at objectivity.

Anonymous said...

It says 50 percent of Christian men, which may very well be true. I mean, most of the Christian men I've met are fucking creepy. Brr.

--A. Girl

JohnnieCanuck said...

Well extrapolating from what we see of male Christian leaders and their indiscretions, I could almost accept that 50% figure. However that would just be evidence-free wishful thinking, wouldn't it?

You don't suppose the poll results were contaminated by Satanic pranksters, do you?

John Bambenek said...

You know, you've convinced me narc... the proper action when science conflicts with beliefs is to claim that the science was bad.

I've seen the light, thank you for your help.

David said...

"Zeitgeist approved"? I'll have to watch for that official label in the future. Does it really matter who "approved" a study when it doesn't even support your own conclusions?

Apparently the proper action when facts contradict a political/ideological agenda is to go to the blog belonging to the person who exposed the illegitimacy and post snide, sarcastic remarks. That must be the rational presentation style that swayed so many voters last election.

Now, back on topic, please.

Matthew said...

Bambenek misunderstanding things isn't anything new, Narc, surely you should know that by now. ;-)

What interests me most is the term "addiction," and how it's one of those terms that is bandied about a lot, but one wonders if it's being correctly used.

There is typically a negative connotation attached to addiction, and it *should be* related to the amount of usage, not the act, itself, but seldom is.

For example, one suspects that pretty much *any* pornography usage would be deemed addictive or terrible by some of these groups, which would be a misuse of the term.

How many people are labeled as being 'volunteer addicts,' for example?

Ryan said...

Face it: sex and anything related to sex, such as porn, terrifies the religious right because of the power it wields. It is no wonder that they want to surpress it. But lacking anything beyond beliefs to support their points, they resort to propaganda. It's essentially: "I don't like sex, so you shouldn't either, and I won't let you enjoy it or express it in any way because it makes ME uncomfortable. And oh, let's protect the children and marriage and all that, because sex and you enjoying it really might make me lose my hold on reality." And when you take something and make it continuously negative, then it's no wonder that people get messed up in terms of sex.

And once again, when confronted, they use snide comments and bluster to try and cover their ass and play the victim.

Narc said...

Matt: I agree that the definition of addiction is important and was largely ignored here. Any behavior, even handwashing, can become compulsive and is a problem when it does. I think it's reasonable to conclude porn addiction/sex addiction does exist; if nothing else, it meddles with the pleasure centers of your brain. These people, however, are not interested in a studied and reasoned examination of facts.

Ryan: I think sex also gets mixed up with our views about cleanliness, and some people get painted with the "unclean" brush if they don't do it the "right" way. Interestingly, the other things in our lives that used to have this same effect, such as what sorts of food one eats , have lost this association.

prairie biker said...

I'M addicted to sex. And I really like porn. But I'm hardly a Christian. I feel really left out here.

Narc said...

PB, we really wouldn't want you to feel left out. I'm sure the nice people at XXXChurch.com would love to talk to you.

NormalisRelative said...

In viewing your post from a year ago, IF the statistics from the porn-again article had more credibility, how would you feel about the point he was trying to make?

Narc said...

If the statistics were valid -- and let me point out again that they're not -- sure, it would be a problem if a majority of the population were addicted to porn. It would be a huge problem if a majority of the population were addicted to anything, whether it be porn, alcohol, trans fats, or crack.

Other than the spurious claims about "addiction", there are no points in any of these articles.