A Tale of Two Surveys
Previously I took on Andrew Sullivan. I argued that when he puts his God-goggles on he gets basically stupid. Faith does that to people. He misquoted a report on people with HIV claiming it showed: "If you believe, you're less likely to catch it." In fact it didn't speak of contracting HIV at all since these people were all infected. It said that highly religious people reported they practiced safe sex more often and had less sex.
I argued that the report he cited was a survey where these people described their own religiousity and their own sexual habits. I said such surveys are prone to distortions because some groups of people are highly motivated to lie. And one group that is highly notivate to lie about their sexual lives are religious people who are violating their own moral codes. I thought this was an obvious flaw in the report.
Today Sullivan reports on another study on sexuality where, with no God-goggles to stupify him, he suddenly understands the problems of self-reporting surveys like the one he cited previously. This survey mapped the sexual interactions of high school students with white dots for girls and blue dots for boys. If one boy had sex with one girl and neither of them had sex with anyone else in the school it would show on the map as a blue dot connected to a white dot and nothing more. If the boy had sex with two different girls, and neither of them had sex with anyone else, you would have a blue dot connected on two sides to white dots with no other connections. and so on.
The previous self-reporting survey confirmed Sullivan's religious obsession. So it was taken at self value, no questions asked and trumpeted as if it proved some great truth about the goodness of religion. This survey chanlleged another one of Sullivan's religious obsessions, his gayness. I believe the large map showed only one gay relationship. This goes against what Sullivan assumes (and I think against reality). Suddenly Sullivan is making the same point I previously made. "Why so few gays? It's high school, I guess. And all of this is based on reported hook-ups, so who knows what the reality truly is."
The "reported" hook-ups of religious people he took at face value no question asked. It confirmed what he wanted to hear. The "reported" hook-ups of high school students didn't say what he wanted to hear so he dismisses it saying "who knows what the reality truly is." No one really!
High school students don't want to admit they are gay or had gay sex. So they will downplay that activity in their reporting. Some, especially the boys, will want to appear as studs so they will exaggerate on that side of the fence. They have motivations to misreport the facts making the survey of some, but very limited, value. Christians also have reasons to misreport their activity especially those who are deeply fundamentalist, as were many in the survey of HIV infected people Sullivan reported about previously. They will downplay all sexual activity. But that was what Sullivan wanted to hear then.
Unfortunately, even while Sullivan is not a dumb man, he does allow his God-goggles to get in the way frequently. So he can see the problem of self-reporting sex surveys which don't confirm what he wanted to hear while he doesn't see the same problem with sex surveys which do confirm what he wanted to hear. That he made these contradictory statements so close together just shows how blind people become with their God-goggles on.
UPDATE: Maybe Mr. Sullivan is having other problems and it's mot just his God-goggles. He has a Quote for the Day which is calls Tyler Cowen mouthing off again. The quote seems to imply Cowen said this. Actually he asked his readers how they would feel about the statement. It was not Cowen's statement at all. Then to make matters even worse sullivans sais that the commenters at the Reason blog were having "various calves" over the issue. That isn't true either. There was discussion of the points Cowen raised, which are not in the "quote" that Sullivan lifted out of context. And no one seemd particularly upset with Cowen. Maybe Andrew isn't reading as well as he used in old age?