Friday, June 20, 2008

Biostatistics and Journalism 101: The Gloucester Pregnancy "Pact"

Thanks to M, S, and L who all sent me links to this Time article about the alleged "pregnancy boom" at Gloucester High in Massachussetts.

I want everyone to take a deep breath here. Now, let's all do some math.

There are 1200 students at this school. For the sake of argument, let's say that 50% of them are female. So that gives us 17 pregnancies for 600 students. Get out your calculators:
17/600 = 0.0028
To calculate the number of pregnancies per 1000 people, we multiply that 0.0028 by 1000 and, viola, we have a pregnancy rate of 28.33 per 1000 women. Sound high?

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which publishes statistics on teen sex and pregnancy, 28 per 1000 is 16 prengancies lower than the lowest state prengancy rate in the nation (North Dakota, with 42 per 1000 teen women aged 15-19).

Now I'm no expert, but that doesn't much sound like a "pregnancy outbreak" to me, which is what CNN called it in a news story this morning. And the alleged "pact" the girls made? The school's principal, Joseph Sullivan, claimed on CNN that "nearly half" of the pregnancies were planned.

What's actually fueling this story, I imagine, is revealed in the shots of the Gloucester Daily Times that the CNN story shows: health education funding has been cut at Gloucester High, and the school's board will vote this fall on whether to provide contraception in its school clinic.

I'm all for health education (as long as it's not abstinence-based) and school-provided contraception, but shame on CNN for being total navel-gazers on this story and not, say, checking around for real pregnancy statistics. This is not, in fact, an outbreak. And the "pact"? Here's a quote from the original Gloucester Daily Times story:
To get to the bottom of the problem, Sullivan investigated and came up with a startling revelation: According to his conversations with upperclassmen, some younger students may be becoming pregnant on purpose.

Kim Daly, nurse practitioner for the high school, was unable to confirm specifics but did say that the majority of students reporting pregnancies this school year were in the younger grades.

Let's get this straight: nobody, not the principal or the nurse practitioner (who, I assume, actually did those pregnancy tests), has spoken to a single girl who has participated in this "pregnancy pact." The only information that even suggests a pact are the principal's conversations with upperclassmen--who, last time I checked, were not "in the younger grades."

Way to go, CNN. This is some of the clumsiest journalism I've ever seen. I don't believe this "pact" bullshit for a second.


Anonymous said...

They're just sluts...what't the big deal? Didn't your high school have them? That's what abortion is for, to prevent these kids from having the burden of babies...Obama even said so!!

Anonymous said...

This Glouscester High School teen pregnancy pact sure sounds like your typical "self-destructive" behavior seen by young people as a society becomes more of a social state and less is expected of them by society. These kids all know that the government will pay for all the costs of their pregnancies and their baby's care till the babies grow up at age 18. You see, these kids really don't see any consequences to having a baby. Call it a tragedy, but I live in New Orleans, and very few pregnant mothers get married down here (even when they live with the father) because they'll lose their government benefits. The liberals WANT a dependent citizenry so they just give out the checks. No questions asked. If you don't believe me, then ask ANYONE from New Orleans about the "baby mama scam!"

Anonymous said...

First, calling them sluts is hardly necessary. They are just girls who made a poor decision (haven't we all at some point) and are accepting the consequences. This is NOT what abortion is for. In fact, I'm not sure what abortion is for. I give these girls kudos for accepting the consequences and raising their babies. If they find a community that will support them and help them (each other), then that makes it even better. Second, I don't believe the "pregnancy pact" bit for one second. It's one thing to joke about at school, it's entirely different to act on it. Besides, if there is merit behind the allegation, then I feel sorry for the girls who have grown up so midguided that they would put themselves willingly into such a situation.

Anonymous said...

Let's get one thing straight here. The alleged "pregnancy pact" happend in June 2008. Guess what else? Those babies have all been born by now. The fact that Lifetime is trying to drag it all back up and dramatize it is just a way to make money and increase ratings. This story was in the news a year and a half ago, and it has already been said by most of the pregnant girls that it was NOT a pre-determind pact. A few friends got pregnant in a few months of eachother and THEN they decided to raise the babie together and support eachother. Every one get over it. It was not a pact, and it was not an outbreak. Lifetime just wants you to watch their new movie.