Monday, November 8, 2010

Teens, Same-Sex Relationships, AOL, and Dubious Data

Another good analysis here from Kevin DeYoung as he deconstructs a recent AOL Health story on Teens and Same-Sex relationships:

Is It True That “1 in 10 Teens Has Had a Same-Sex Partner”?

Be suspicious of statistics, especially those that seem too good or too bad or too surprising to be true.

You may have seen this amazing news headline: 1 in 10 Teens Has Had a Same-Sex Partner. The story on AOL Health begins this way:

Nearly one in ten teens has had a same-sex partner — double what previous research has shown, according to a surprising new study.

The latest findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, reveal that 9.3 percent of teenagers say they have had at least one partner who is the same sex as they are.

That’s about twice as many as indicated in a 2002 study of Massachusetts and Vermont teens showing 5 to 6 percent of teenagers had had same-sex partners.

“I don’t know that it means there’s an increase in prevalence,” said Massachusetts psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Carlat, AOL Health’s mental health expert. “As homosexuality has become more and more accepted in society, people are more willing to acknowledge their sexuality than they used to be.”

Wow! Who knew? 1 in 10 American teenagers has had a same-sex partner?! That’s really terrible/terrific (depending on your point of view). What a revelation!

The only problem with this revelation is that it’s false. If the reporter for AOL had taken time to read just the abstract for the Pediatrics article she may have seen the heading “CONCLUSIONS” (in all caps) and noted this summary:

Of sexually active adolescents, 9.3% reported a same-sex partner, a higher estimate than other published rates.

AOL speaks of 1 in 10 teens; the original article concludes 9.3% of sexually active adolescents reported a same-sex partner. There’s a big difference. The survey analyzed data from 17,220 teenagers. Of those, 7,261 (or 42%) reported having had sex. So according this study 58% of teens are not having sex with anyone and 9.3% of those have, had same-sex partners, or 3.9% of the total sample.

There are other reasons to be suspicious of the headline... Read on.

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