New study: Dirty music leads to bad reporting
This isn’t the first time I’ve carped about how little reporters understand about science and social research. Probably won’t be the last.
So, you may have seen this story, courtesy of FOX News :
Sexy Music Lyrics Prompt Teen to Have Sex
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
By Daniel J. DeNoon
Teens start having sex sooner if their preferred music has sexually degrading lyrics, a small study of young teenagers suggests.
However, lyrics with sexual content that is not degrading did not affect teen sexual behavior. Degrading lyrics, as defined in this study, describe men as insatiable studs and women as sex objects.
The findings come from RAND, a nonprofit think tank. It based its study on telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,242 kids, aged 12 to 17.
RAND researcher Steven C. Martino, PhD, and colleagues report the findings in the August issue of Pediatrics.
“The more teens listened to degrading sexual music content, the more likely they were to subsequently initiate intercourse and progress in [other], noncoital activity,” Martino and colleagues report. “These music effects held, even though 18 other predictors of sexual behavior were taken into account.” (Story.)
(And as bad as I hate FOX News, let’s understand that they’re no dumber than anybody else on this score.)
Daniel DeNoon apparently doesn’t know enough to ask even the most basic questions about causality vs. correlation. To wit, while I have no doubt that these two factors co-vary, how do we know that A –> B? (We don’t.) Is it possible that a third factor (say, membership in a sub-culture that’s more open about sex) causes both A and B? (Yes, it is.) Or maybe even that a predisposition toward sexual exploration leads to the consumption of media that supports the idea? That is, maybe B –> A? (Could be, based on what we know). And based on what I know about social research, I bet the lead investigator can’t do much more than speculate (which he’s doing like a celebrity-starved jackass, if this story is any indication). I don’t know – maybe I’m being unfair to the researcher, but I’d be surprised if the reporter would know a “predictor” if it nipped him in the willy.
Not his fault, though. American colleges aren’t effectively teaching an understanding of scientific method to non-science majors, and journalism schools, which have an obligation to prepare reporters for just such an occurrence, are letting kids out the door without even a basic grasp of how to analyze research claims. This is obvious just about every time a study is reported, and it’s painfully evident in most any story that makes use of the words “Kansas” and “schoolboard.”