Arquivo da tag: Moralidade

Climate Debate Needs More Social Science, New Book Argues (Inside Science)

Image credit: Matt Jiggins via Flickr | http://bit.ly/1M6iSlZ

Physical scientists aren’t trained for all the political and moral issues.
Oct 2 2015 – 10:00am

By: Joel N. Shurkin, Contributor

(Inside Science) — The notion that Earth’s climate is changing—and that the threat to the world is serious—goes back to the 1980s, when a consensus began to form among climate scientists as temperatures began to rise noticeably. Thirty years later, that consensus is solid, yet climate change and the disruption it may cause remain divisive political issues, and millions of people remain unconvinced.

A new book argues that social scientists should play a greater role in helping natural scientists convince people of the reality of climate change and drive policy.

Climate Change and Society consists of 13 essays on why the debate needs the voices of social scientists, including political scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists. It is edited by Riley E. Dunlap, professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and Robert J. Brulle, of Drexel University, professor of sociology and environmental science in Philadelphia.

Brulle said the physical scientists tend to frame climate change “as a technocratic and managerial problem.”

“Contrast that to the Pope,” he said.

Pope Francis sees it as a “political, moral issue that won’t be settled by a group of experts sitting in a room,” said Brulle, who emphasized that it will be settled by political process. Sociologists agree.

Sheila Jasanoff also agrees. She is the Pforzheimer professor of science and technology studies at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and did not participate in the book.

She said that understanding how people behave differently depending on their belief system is important.

“Denial is a somewhat mystical thing in people’s heads,” Jasanoff said. “One can bring tools of sociology of knowledge and belief—or social studies—to understand how commitments to particular statements of nature are linked with understanding how you would feel compelled to behave if nature were that way.”

Parts of the world where climate change is considered a result of the colonial past may resist taking drastic action at the behest of the former colonial rulers. Jasanoff said that governments will have to convince these groups that climate change is a present danger and attention must be paid.

Some who agree there is a threat are reluctant to advocate for drastic economic changes because they believe the world will be rescued by innovation and technology, Jasanoff said. Even among industrialized countries, views about the potential of technology differ.

Understanding these attitudes is what social scientists do, the book’s authors maintain.

“One of the most pressing contributions our field can make is to legitimate big questions, especially the ability of the current global economic system to take the steps needed to avoid catastrophic climate change,” editors of the book wrote.

The issue also is deeply embedded in the social science of economics and in the problem of “have” and “have-not” societies in consumerism and the economy.

For example, Bangladesh sits at sea level, and if the seas rise enough, nearly the entire country could disappear in the waters. Hurricane Katrina brought hints of the consequences of that reality to New Orleans, a city that now sits below sea level. The heaviest burden of the storm’s effects fell on the poor neighborhoods, Brulle said.

“The people of Bangladesh will suffer more than the people on the Upper East Side of Manhattan,” Brulle said. He said they have to be treated differently, which is not something many physical scientists studying the processes behind sea level rise have to factor into their research.

“Those of us engaged in the climate fight need valuable insight from political scientists and sociologists and psychologists and economists just as surely as from physicists,” agreed Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and author who is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. “It’s very clear carbon is warming the planet; it’s very unclear what mix of prods and preferences might nudge us to use much less.”


Joel Shurkin is a freelance writer in Baltimore. He was former science writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer and was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for covering Three Mile Island. He has nine published books and is working on a tenth. He has taught journalism at Stanford University, the University of California at Santa Cruz and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He tweets at @shurkin.

Anúncios

Money talks when it comes to acceptability of ‘sin’ companies, study reveals (Science Daily)

Date: July 30, 2014

Source: University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Summary: Companies who make their money in the ‘sin’ industries such as the tobacco, alcohol and gaming industries typically receive less attention from institutional investors and financial analysts. But new research shows social norms and attitudes towards these types of businesses are subject to compromise when their share price looks to be on the rise.


Companies who make their money in the “sin” industries such as the tobacco, alcohol and gaming industries typically receive less attention from institutional investors and financial analysts.

But new research shows social norms and attitudes towards these types of businesses are subject to compromise when their share price looks to be on the rise. A paper from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management found that institutional shareholdings and analysts’ coverage of sin firms were low when firm performance was low but went up with rising performance expectations.

That suggests that market participants may ignore social norms and standards with the right financial reward.

“This is a way to test the trade-off between people’s non-financial and financial incentives. The boundary of people’s social norms is not a constant,” said researcher Hai Lu, an associate professor of accounting at the Rotman School. Prof. Lu co-wrote the paper with two former Rotman PhD students, McMaster University’s Kevin Veenstra and Yanju Liu, now with Singapore Management University.

The paper sheds light on why there can be a disconnect between the investment behaviour of Wall St. and the ethical expectations of ordinary people. It also suggests a worrisome implication that compromising one’s ethical values in the face of high financial rewards can become a social norm in itself.

On the brighter side, the paper also finds that strong social norms still have an influence over people’s behaviour. If social norms are strong enough and the price of ignoring them is high, this may act as a disincentive to disregard them in favour of other benefits.

This is the first study to examine whether the social acceptability of sin stocks can vary with financial performance. The researchers compared consumption and attitudinal data with information on sin firm stocks, analysts’ coverage and levels of institutional investment.

Journal Reference:

  1. Liu, Yanju and Lu, Hai and Veenstra, Kevin J. Is Sin Always a Sin? The Interaction Effect of Social Norms and Financial Incentives on Market Participants’ Behavior. Accounting, Organizations and Society, March 31, 2014 [link]

Moral in the Morning, but Dishonest in the Afternoon (Science Daily)

Oct. 30, 2013 — Our ability to exhibit self-control to avoid cheating or lying is significantly reduced over the course of a day, making us more likely to be dishonest in the afternoon than in the morning, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Our ability to exhibit self-control to avoid cheating or lying is significantly reduced over the course of a day, making us more likely to be dishonest in the afternoon than in the morning, according to new research. (Credit: © Mark Poprocki / Fotolia)

“As ethics researchers, we had been running experiments examining various unethical behaviors, such as lying, stealing, and cheating,” researchers Maryam Kouchaki of Harvard University and Isaac Smith of the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business explain. “We noticed that experiments conducted in the morning seemed to systematically result in lower instances of unethical behavior.”

This led the researchers to wonder: Is it easier to resist opportunities to lie, cheat, steal, and engage in other unethical behavior in the morning than in the afternoon?

Knowing that self-control can be depleted from a lack of rest and from making repeated decisions, Kouchacki and Smith wanted to examine whether normal activities during the day would be enough to deplete self-control and increase dishonest behavior.

In two experiments, college-age participants were shown various patterns of dots on a computer. For each pattern, they were asked to identify whether more dots were displayed on the left or right side of the screen. Importantly, participants were not given money for getting correct answers, but were instead given money based on which side of the screen they determined had more dots; they were paid 10 times the amount for selecting the right over the left. Participants therefore had a financial incentive to select the right, even if there were unmistakably more dots on the left, which would be a case of clear cheating.

In line with the hypothesis, participants tested between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm were less likely to cheat than those tested between 12:00 pm and 6:00pm — a phenomenon the researchers call the “morning morality effect.”

They also tested participants’ moral awareness in both the morning and afternoon. After presenting them with word fragments such as “_ _RAL” and “E_ _ _ C_ _” the morning participants were more likely to form the words “moral” and “ethical,” whereas the afternoon participants tended to form the words “coral” and “effects,” lending further support to the morning morality effect.

The researchers found the same pattern of results when they tested a sample of online participants from across the United States. Participants were more likely to send a dishonest message to a virtual partner or to report having solved an unsolvable number-matching problem in the afternoon, compared to the morning.

They also discovered that the extent to which people behave unethically without feeling guilt or distress — known as moral disengagement — made a difference in how strong the morning morality effect was. Those participants with a higher propensity to morally disengage were likely to cheat in both the morning and the afternoon. But people who had a lower propensity to morally disengage — those who might be expected to be more ethical in general — were honest in the morning, but less so in the afternoon.

“Unfortunately, the most honest people, such as those less likely to morally disengage, may be the most susceptible to the negative consequences associated with the morning morality effect,” the researchers write. “Our findings suggest that mere time of day can lead to a systematic failure of good people to act morally.”

Kouchacki, a post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, completed her doctoral studies at the University of Utah, where Smith is a current doctoral student. They note that their research results could have implications for organizations or businesses trying to reduce unethical behavior.

“For instance, organizations may need to be more vigilant about combating the unethical behavior of customers or employees in the afternoon than in the morning,” the researchers explain. “Whether you are personally trying to manage your own temptations, or you are a parent, teacher, or leader worried about the unethical behavior of others, our research suggests that it can be important to take something as seemingly mundane as the time of day into account.”

Journal Reference:

  1. M. Kouchaki, I. H. Smith. The Morning Morality Effect: The Influence of Time of Day on Unethical BehaviorPsychological Science, 2013; DOI:10.1177/0956797613498099

Bryan Fischer Blames ‘Liberals’ Way’ For Aurora Mass Shooting (The Huffington Post)

The Huffington Post  |  By Meredith Bennett-Smith Posted: 07/24/2012 2:51 pm Updated: 07/24/2012 9:12 pm

Video

Pundits across the political spectrum have been quick to use the weekend’s tragic mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater as a means of pushing various threads of partisan rhetoric.

Bryan Fischer, the oft-quoted mouthpiece of the American Family Association, was quick to jump on the bandwagon, tying the mass shooting first to a general breakdown in Judeo-Christian values, and most recently to the public school system’s teaching of evolution.

The Raw Story published comments made Monday by Fischer, the director of issues analysis for the fundamentalist Christian organization, during his daily radio show, “Focal Point.” In an impressive feat of extrapolation, Fischer linked the massacre to “the liberals’ way” of teaching the theory of evolution and preventing prayer in schools.

Fischer wondered aloud if bestselling author and California magachurch evangelical Reverend Rick Warren was referring to the alleged shooter, James Holmes, when hetweeted, “When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.”

“If this tweet was connected to the shooting, to this James Holmes, to the one that killed the 12 and wounded the 58 in this theater, it would be appropriate,” Fischer said.

Fischer went on to blame Holmes’ murderous tendencies on Charles’ Darwin’s principle of survival of the fittest.

“[Holmes] sees himself as evolutionarily advanced just like he was taught in school about Darwin, that this is how natural selection works,” Fischer said.

Fischer then moved on to also blame the killings on the end of organized prayer in schools. The Supreme Court prohibited state-sponsored prayer in schools in two landmark cases in the early 1960s: Engel v. Vitale in 1962 and Abington School District v. Schempp one year later.

“We have spent 60 years telling God to get lost,” Fischer said. “What if every single day in [James Holmes’] educational process, there had been readings from the word of God … Who knows if things could have been different. But we’ve tried it the other way. The point of my column, we’ve tried it the liberals’ way for 60 years now. What do we got? We have massacres in Aurora.”

Fischer did not mention the fact that James Holmes’ family belonged to the Penasquitos Lutheran Church for about ten years, as originally reported by the Associated Press. Holmes’ mother still attends services there regularly.

The American Family Association is no stranger to controversy. In comments made during a segment of the AFA Journal program on Friday and reported by Right Wing Watch, AFA news director Fred Jackson, co-host Teddy James and guest Jerry Newcombe of the Truth in Action Ministries suggested that violent incidents in America, including in Aurora, were evidence of God’s judgement.

“The AFA Journal has been dealing with denominations that no longer believe in the God of the Bible,” Jackson said. “They no longer believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation, they teach that God is OK with homosexuality, this is just increasing more and more. It is mankind shaking its fist at the authority of God.”

“And God will not be silent when he’s mocked, and we need to remember that,”James said, to which Jackson replied, “We are seeing his judgment. You know, some people talk about ‘God’s judgment must be just around the corner,’ we are seeing it.”

Michael Sandel: ‘We need to reason about how to value our bodies, human dignity, teaching and learning’ (The Guardian)

The political philosophy professor on his new book, What Money Can’t Buy, and why economics needs to be seen not as a science but a moral philosophy

Decca Aitkenhead
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 27 May 2012 20.01 BST
'What is a good hospital?' … Michael Sandel

‘What is a good hospital?’ … Michael Sandel Photograph: Felix Clay for the Guardian

Something curious happened when I tried to potty train my two-year-old recently. To begin with, he was very keen on the idea. I’d read that the trick was to reward him with a chocolate button every time he used the potty, and for the first day or two it went like a breeze – until he cottoned on that the buttons were basically a bribe, and began to smell a rat. By day three he refused point-blank to go anywhere near the potty, and invoking the chocolate button prize only seemed to make him all the more implacable. Even to a toddler’s mind, the logic of the transaction was evidently clear – if he had to be bribed, then the potty couldn’t be a good idea – and within a week he had grown so suspicious and upset that we had to abandon the whole enterprise.

It’s a pity I hadn’t read What Money Can’t Buybefore embarking, because the folly of the chocolate button policy lies at the heart of Michael Sandel‘s new book. “We live at a time when almost everything can be bought and sold,” the Harvard philosopher writes. “We have drifted from having a market economy, to beinga market society,” in which the solution to all manner of social and civic challenges is not a moral debate but the law of the market, on the assumption that cash incentives are always the appropriate mechanism by which good choices are made. Every application of human activity is priced and commodified, and all value judgments are replaced by the simple question: “How much?”

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, by Michael Sandel

Sandel leads us through a dizzying array of examples, from schools paying children to read – $2 (£1.20) a book in Dallas – to commuters buying the right to drive solo in car pool lanes ($10 in many US cities), to lobbyists in Washington paying line-standers to hold their place in the queue for Congressional hearings; in effect, queue-jumping members of the public. Drug addicts in North Carolina can be paid $300 to be sterilised, immigrants can buy a green card for $500,000, best man’s speeches are for sale on the internet, and even body parts are openly traded in a financial market for kidneys, blood and surrogate wombs. Even the space on your forehead can be up for sale. Air New Zealand has paid people to shave their heads and walk around wearing temporary tattoos advertising the airline.

According to the logic of the market, the matter of whether these transactions are right or wrong is literally meaningless. They simply represent efficient arrangements, incentivising desirable behaviour and “improving social utility by making underpriced goods available to those most willing to pay for them”. To Sandel, however, the two important questions we should be asking in every instance are: Is it fair to buy and sell this activity or product? And does doing so degrade it? Almost invariably, his answers are no, and yes.

Sandel, 59, has been teaching political philosophy at Harvard for more than 30 years, and is often described as a rock star professor, such is the excitement his lectures command. In person there is nothing terribly rock star about him; he grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in Minneapolis, studied for his doctorate at Balliol college in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and has been married for decades to a social scientist with whom he has two adult sons. His career, on the other hand, is stratospheric.

Sandel’s justice course is said to be the single most popular university class on the planet, taken by more than 15,000 students to date and televised for a worldwide audience that runs into millions. His 2009 book Justice, based upon the course, became a global bestseller, sparking a craze for moral philosophy in Japan and earning him the accolade “most influential foreign figure” from China Newsweek. If you heard a series of his lectures broadcast on Radio 4 in the spring you would have glimpsed a flavour of his wonderfully discursive approach to lecturing, which is not unlike an Oxbridge tutorial, only conducted with an auditorium full of students, whom he invites to think aloud.

In keeping with his rock star status, Sandel is currently embarked upon a mammoth world tour to promote his new book, and when we meet in London he has almost lost his voice. His next sleep, he croaks, half smiling, isn’t scheduled for another fortnight, and he looks quite weak with jetlag. Understandably, then, he isn’t quite as commanding as I had expected. But although I found his book fascinating – and in parts both confronting and deeply moving – in truth, until the very last pages I didn’t find it quite as persuasive as I had hoped.

This may, as we’ll come on to, have something to do with the fact that its central argument is harder to make in the US than it would be here. “It is a harder sell in America than in Europe,” he agrees. “It cuts against the grain in America.” This is truer today than ever before, he adds, for since he began teaching Sandel has observed in his students “a gradual shift over time, from the 80s to the present, in the direction of individualistic free-market assumptions”. The book’s rather detached, dispassionate line of inquiry into each instance of marketisation – is it fair, and does it degrade? – was devised as a deliberate strategy to “win over the very pro-market American audience” – and it certainly makes for a coolly elegant read, forgoing rhetoric for forensic examination in order to engage with free market economics in terms the discipline understands. But I’m just not entirely sure it works.

If, like me, you share Sandel’s view that moral values should not be replaced by market prices, the interesting way to read What Money Can’t Buy is through the eyes of a pro-market fundamentalist who regards such a notion as sentimental nonsense. Does he win you over then?

He certainly provides some fascinating examples of the market failing to do a better job than social norms or civic values, when it comes to making us do the right thing. For example, economists carried out a survey of villagers in Switzerland to see if they would accept a nuclear waste site in their community. While the site was obviously unwelcome, the villagers recognised its importance to their country, and voted 51% in favour. The economists then asked how they would vote if the government compensated them for accepting the site with an annual payment. Support promptly dropped to 25%. It was the potty-and-chocolate-buttons syndrome all over again. Likewise, a study comparing the British practice of blood donation with the American system whereby the poor can sell their blood found the voluntary approach worked far more effectively. Once again, civic duty turned out to be more powerful than money.

However, a true believer in the law of the market would surely argue that all this proves is that sometimes a particular marketisation device doesn’t work. For them it remains not a moral debate but simply one of efficacy. Sandel writes about the wrongness of a medical system in which the rich can pay for “concierge doctors” who will prioritise wealthy patients – but to anyone who believes in markets, Sandel’s objection would surely cut little ice. They would say it’s a question of whether or not the system is fulfilling its purpose. If the primary purpose of a particular hospital is to save lives, then if it treats a millionaire’s bruised toe while a poorer patient dies of a heart attack in the waiting room, the marketisation has clearly not worked. But if the function of the hospital is to maximise profits, then treating the millionaire’s sore toe first makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

“I suspect that you have – we have – a certain idea of what a hospital is for, such that a purely profit-driven one misses the mark; it’s deficient in some way; it falls short of what hospitals are properly for. You would say, wouldn’t you, that that hospital – that market-driven one – is not a proper hospital. They’ve misidentified, really, what a hospital is for. Just as if they were a school that said: ‘Our purpose isn’t, really, primarily, to educate students, but to maximise revenue – and we maximise revenue by offering certain credentials, and so on,’ you’d say: ‘Well, that’s not a proper school; they’re deficient in some way.'”

I would, I agree. But a rabid rightwinger wouldn’t. They would say the profit motive is in itself blameless, and pursuing it by mending people’s bodies or expanding their minds is no different to making motor cars, as long as it works.

“My point is that the debate, or the argument, with someone who held that view of the purpose of the hospital would be a moral argument about how properly to understand the purpose of a hospital or a school. And, yes, there would be disagreement – but that disagreement, about purpose, would be, at the same time, a moral disagreement. I’d say ‘moral disagreement’, because it’s not just an empirical question: How did this hospital define its mission? It’s: What are hospitals properly for? What is a good hospital?”

I don’t think that would convince a hardliner at all. Similarly, I imagine a hardline rightwinger might read Sandel’s chapter about the practice in the US of corporations taking life insurance policies out on their staff, often unbeknown to the employees, and think: what’s the problem? Sandel writes about the “moral tawdriness” of companies having a financial interest in the death of an employee, but as he doesn’t suggest it would tempt them to start killing their staff, these policies would strike many on the right as a rational financial investment.

At this point Sandel begins to peer at me across the table with an expression of mild disgust and disbelief. Is this woman really, I think I can see him wondering, from the Guardian? So I explain hastily that I tried very hard to read his book wearing Thatcherite glasses.

“You tried a bit too hard,” he says wryly. “You shouldn’t have tried so hard. You should have gone with the flow a bit more.” Which feels like a disappointing answer.

The irony is that I think Sandel would have written a more powerful book had he not tried to argue the case on free-market economists’ own dry, dispassionate terms. It is, as he rightly points out, the language in which most modern political debate is conducted: “Between those who favour unfettered markets and those who maintain that market choices are free only when they’re made on a level playing field.” But it feels as if by engaging on their terms, he’s forcing himself to make an argument with one hand tied behind his back. Only in the final chapter does he throw caution to the wind, and make the case in the language of poetry.

“Consider the language employed by the critics of commercialisation,” he writes. “‘Debasement’, ‘defilement’, ‘coarsening’, ‘pollution’, the loss of the ‘sacred’. This is a spiritually charged language that gestures toward higher ways of living and being.” And it works, for the book suddenly makes sense to me. His closing elegy to what is lost by a society that surrenders all decisions to the market almost moved me to tears.

“Does that mean I should have just started and ended with the poetry, and forgotten about the argumentative and analytical part?” he asks. “I want to address people who are coming to this from different ideological directions.” But funnily enough, I think the poetry might well do a better job of persuading those very sceptics he’s trying to convert.

A fascinating question he addresses is why the financial crisis appears to have scarcely put a dent in public faith in market solutions. “One would have thought that this would be an occasion for critical reflection on the role of markets in our lives. I think the persistent hold of markets and market values – even in the face of the financial crisis – suggests that the source of that faith runs very deep; deeper than the conviction that markets deliver the goods. I don’t think that’s the most powerful allure of markets. One of the appeals of markets, as a public philosophy, is they seem to spare us the need to engage in public arguments about the meaning of goods. So markets seem to enable us to be non-judgmental about values. But I think that’s a mistake.”

Putting a price on a flat-screen TV or a toaster is, he says, quite sensible. “But how to value pregnancy, procreation, our bodies, human dignity, the value and meaning of teaching and learning – we do need to reason about the value of goods. The markets give us no framework for having that conversation. And we’re tempted to avoid that conversation, because we know we will disagree about how to value bodies, or pregnancy, or sex, or education, or military service; we know we will disagree. So letting markets decide seems to be a non-judgmental, neutral way. And that’s the deepest part of the allure; that it seems to provide a value-neutral, non-judgmental way of determining the value of all goods. But the folly of that promise is – though it may be true enough for toasters and flat-screen televisions – it’s not true for kidneys.”

Sandel makes the illuminating observation that what he calls the “market triumphalism” in western politics over the past 30 years has coincided with a “moral vacancy” at the heart of public discourse, which has been reduced in the media to meaningless shouting matches on cable TV – what might be called the Foxification of debate – and among elected politicians to disagreements so technocratic and timid that citizens despair of politics ever addressing the questions that matter most.

“There is an internal connection between the two, and the internal connection has to do with this flight from judgment in public discourse, or the aspiration to value neutrality in public discourse. And it’s connected to the way economics has cast itself as a value-neutral science when, in fact, it should probably be seen – as it once was – as a branch of moral and political philosophy.”

Sandel’s popularity would certainly indicate a public appetite for something more robust and enriching. I ask if he thinks academia could do with a few more professors with rock star status and he pauses for a polite while before smiling. “That’s a question I would rather have you answer than me, I would say.” That someone as unflashy and mild-mannered as Sandel can command more attention in the US than even a rightwing poster boy academic such as Niall Ferguson must, I would say, be some grounds for optimism. On a purely personal level, I ask, is there any downside to engaging with the world through the eyes of moral philosophy, rather than simple market logic?

“None but the burden of reflection and moral seriousness.”

Abstinence-Only Education Does Not Lead to Abstinent Behavior, Researchers Find (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Nov. 29, 2011) — States that prescribe abstinence-only sex education programs in public schools have significantly higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates than states with more comprehensive sex education programs, researchers from the University of Georgia have determined.

The researchers looked at teen pregnancy and birth data from 48 U.S. states to evaluate the effectiveness of those states’ approaches to sex education, as prescribed by local laws and policies.
“Our analysis adds to the overwhelming evidence indicating that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates,” said Kathrin Stanger-Hall, assistant professor of plant biology and biological sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Hall is first author on the resulting paper, which has been published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

The study is the first large-scale evidence that the type of sex education provided in public schools has a significant effect on teen pregnancy rates, Hall said.

“This clearly shows that prescribed abstinence-only education in public schools does not lead to abstinent behavior,” said David Hall, second author and assistant professor of genetics in the Franklin College. “It may even contribute to the high teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. compared to other industrialized countries.”

Along with teen pregnancy rates and sex education methods, Hall and Stanger-Hall looked at the influence of socioeconomic status, education level, access to Medicaid waivers and ethnicity of each state’s teen population.

Even when accounting for these factors, which could potentially impact teen pregnancy rates, the significant relationship between sex education methods and teen pregnancy remained: the more strongly abstinence education is emphasized in state laws and policies, the higher the average teenage pregnancy and birth rates.

“Because correlation does not imply causation, our analysis cannot demonstrate that emphasizing abstinence causes increased teen pregnancy. However, if abstinence education reduced teen pregnancy as proponents claim, the correlation would be in the opposite direction,” said Stanger-Hall.

The paper indicates that states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates were those that prescribed comprehensive sex and/or HIV education, covering abstinence alongside proper contraception and condom use. States whose laws stressed the teaching of abstinence until marriage were significantly less successful in preventing teen pregnancies.

These results come at an important time for legislators. A new evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative was signed into federal law in December 2009 and awarded $114 million for implementation. However, federal abstinence-only funding was renewed for 2010 and beyond by including $250 million of mandatory abstinence-only funding as part of an amendment to the Senate Finance Committee’s health-reform legislation.

With two types of federal funding programs available, legislators of individual states now have the opportunity to decide which type of sex education — and which funding option — to choose for their state and possibly reconsider their state’s sex education policies for public schools, while pursuing the ultimate goal of reducing teen pregnancy rates.

Stanger-Hall and Hall conducted this large-scale analysis to provide scientific evidence to inform this decision.

“Advocates for continued abstinence-only education need to ask themselves: If teens don’t learn about human reproduction, including safe sexual health practices to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as how to plan their reproductive adult life in school, then when should they learn it and from whom?” said Stanger-Hall.