Rachel Hart,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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July 7, 2005

Entering the abstinence-only battle today, Jordan Ellenberg, an assistant professor of mathematics at Princeton University, published an interesting article in Slate about the debate surrounding two recent studies on teens that take virginity pledges.

Both studies draw on the same data, however, the study by Hannah Brueckner and Peter Bearman (of Yale and Columbia respectively) and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that “adolescents who pledged to remain virgins until marriage had STD infection rates as young adults that were statistically indistinguishable from those of nonpledgers,” while the unpublished study by Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson of the Heritage Foundation challenged those findings as “inaccurate” and “misleading.”

Ellenberg goes into a long conversation about statistical significance and what it means and how it should (or should not) be characterized. Whether or not you want to delve into the meaning of statistical significance, p-values, and coin tosses is up to you. What I hope you will think about is the role spin plays in this debate, and what, in the end, is most important – the safety of teens or political rhetoric.

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