Sometimes I wonder to what lengths journalists should be allowed to go in their attempts to defend their opinions. Should they be allowed to twist facts to suit their cause, or should their editors be more stringent in enforcing adherence to the truth?
And the journalists themselves; should they misquote facts with abandon, or should they try to take things at more than face value before burdening their readers with claptrap packaged as independent reporting?
The cause of my rambling is a report I read in the Daily Nation yesterday (Tuesday, 18th of April, 2017). Maybe you read it too. Heck, I know you read it. I think everybody read it because the damned newspaper had the impudence to grant the story headline status. It goes under the title “We Want Condoms, Kenyan teens say,” and is attributed to one Eunice Kilonzo.
As the headline states, the article tries to make a case for granting ready access to condoms and contraceptives to Kenyan teens on the grounds that many are sexually active and desire to have more information about “reproductive health,” contraception et al, instead of being taught positive morals. The article bases its legitimacy on a study that has been released today (the journalist had early access). The study was funded by the Guttmacher Institute and the Health Research Centre.
So far, so good. Cut and dry. But wait a minute, there is more to this than meets the eye, or rather than meets the cursory eye. A deeper examination lays bare countless inadequacies and weaknesses in Ms Kilonzo’s argument that would make the article not only erroneous, but also dangerously misled.
Let’s take the article apart, one piece at a time.
First, the quoted study is based on data from 2,484 students between 15 and 17 years in age from Homa Bay, Nairobi and Mombasa. Last I checked, teenage begins from 13 and ends at 19, and Kenya has 47 counties, not 3. Now, I understand that the study – because it is a study – could not interview literally all Kenyan teenagers and therefore had to settle on a representative sample of them for its purposes.
The only problem is that it didn’t. It focused on 15 to 17 year olds in some of the most sexually promiscuous of Kenyan counties and tried to array them as representative of all Kenyan teenagers. This is not how science, especially social science, should work. Therefore, based on this weakness alone, the study cannot claim to speak for “Kenyan teens,” as the article flamboyantly claimed. How Eunice Kilonzo missed this weakness can only be explained by the possibility that she wanted the study to support her opinion.
Let’s move on to the second weakness. For this one, let’s pretend that the sample was actually representative of Kenyan teenagers. The article reports that nearly (note: nearly) 3 out of 10 of the teenagers said they are sexually active. I know, 3 out of 10 is a big ratio. But 7 out of 10 is a much bigger ratio, isn’t it? And what have the 7 out of 10 done? Don’t ask me, but the study, in saying that nearly 3 out of 10 are sexually active, implies that over 7 out of 10 are not sexually active.
So, even if the study were representative – which it is not – and we were to talk of Kenyan teens based solely on the voice of a majority and ignore everything else, 70% would still be sexually inactive. Why quote the 30% of Kenyan teens as representative of the entire age set when the other 70% (which is an overwhelming majority) have a different story?
Now bring in the other deficiencies of the study – we can only pretend for so long – and you realise that the number is much, much higher than 70%. If you include the voices of every teenager in Kenya, from all counties and from 13 to 19, you will get a much clearer discrepancy. I bet the number could be closer to 99% than it is to 71%.
There is a third weakness. The article mentioned – in passing – that some of the respondents in the study could have reported that they are sexually active to look good in the presence of their peers. As in, they are not sexually active but say they are to not be thought of as sissies. So even the data used in the study – unscientific as it already is – was inaccurate to some degree. This lessens the study’s accuracy further, and makes Eunice all the more misled to report it as saying what she said it says.
But wait, there are more weaknesses. Remember that the study used respondents from Homa Bay, Nairobi and Mombasa. In short, it focused on counties that have some of the most promiscuous sexual records in the country. Homa Bay has Kenya’s highest HIV/AIDs prevalence of any county in Kenya, as the same paper recently reported. Nairobi and Mombasa aren’t exactly known for their sexual virtues. These three counties, therefore, are not representative of the sexual attitudes of the entire country. Not by a long stretch can they be spoken of as such.
The last weakness I will talk about here is that the study was funded by the Guttmacher Institute. I admit that someone had to fund the study, sure. But the Guttmacher Institute has as its sole aim the promotion of sexual promiscuity and abortion worldwide. Check their website and let me know if you think otherwise. What this means is that the study was commissioned to prove a preconceived point, and all the data was collected deliberately to back that point up. And even when the data obtained failed to support that point, it was interpreted to do so.
I could go on, but you get the point. One of these weaknesses would be enough to throw the article into the dustbin of irrelevance. Instead, with these and many more, it somehow managed to sneak its way past more important stories into the prized spot on the front page.
How can you explain that except by admitting that the editor who green-lighted that headline was as enthusiastic to make the claim as the journalist who dropped it on his desk? If he/she had decided to critique the article, would it even have seen the light of day?
Here is the problem with the article. It is pure, unadulterated bullshit. And if it was a matter of whether aliens exist or not, I would have tamely kept quiet and shaken my head at the utter stupidity on display. But this kind of hogwash will have an impact on whether Kenyan girls and boys, now caught in the turbulent doldrums of teenage, transition into adulthood with common sense in their heads and no deadly disease under their skins.
Countless numbers of these young people – as the study itself actually shows despite its myriad weaknesses – are committed to abstinence. This is still the only sure way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs, no matter what they tell you about condoms and contraceptives, and these young people know it.
That this is the position espoused by the Church and co. does not make it any less valid. Trashing it just because it is moral is to refuse to acknowledge reality. And making any contrary claims without any solid evidence is to be irresponsible with the lives of countless young people, in whom our country’s future resides.
It not only discourages those who are committed to abstinence, but also encourages those whose wayward tendencies already have them firmly in the crossfires of HIV, STIs and premarital pregnancies.
So, here’s the take-home: before you adopt a position because a major newspaper did so in its headline, try to analyse the points offered to support it. More than once, you will come out shaking your head at how such bullshit ever made its way into the newspaper in the first place.
Feature image: Unknown source.
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