Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Playing with figures of sexual health




A single research project can be reported on in different ways depending on what you want to do. Take the following two articles both reporting on the same research by the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. The research shows how many girls in the study thought the HPV vaccine also reduced their risk of catching other STIs.


http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2083260/One-teenage-girls-thinks-HPV-vaccine-cuts-risk-contracting-STDs.html
http://www.healthnews.com/en/news/Some-Girls-Overestimate-HPV-Vaccine-Protection/3hFUdOev1E8wSjg313QPZq/ 

The daily mail report emphasis 1 in 4, I believe this is because they are trying to show how it is a big problem. Where as Health News states "show that a small percentage of girls" I believe this is because they are trying to show it is not a big problem. Both quoting the same study with the same figure of 23.6% of girls having the HPV vaccine believing it will reduce their risk of catching other STIs. 

Now this is a common occurrence in the sexual health field as many people reporting on it have an agenda. And it is true that no one can be completely free from agenda but sex news seems to be riff with agendas. People always seems to have an axe to grind. Which is why it is so important to carefully look at the sources and request figures when they are not provided. 

When I do small scale surveys I always try to be as clear and open as I can be about the methods I use and the details of the statistics. But I am sure my own bias and agenda (sub-consciously if not consciously) impact how I interpret my own results. But that is another reason to publish not only your conclusions but your workings. Share everything. If you care about finding out the true answer and not just supporting your own theory you will be pleased to welcome alternate conclusions as they can help balance your own findings.   


So what has this got to mean for the HPV study. Is this a problem or isn't it? I believe that even 1% would show that more education was needed. (But my agenda as a sex and relationship educator would encourage this). But the reporting in the Daily Mail goes on to talk about controversy in the USA about the claimed consequences of this vaccine. It seems like the article is trying to support the basic argument that HPV vaccine = bad with a new argument. HPV vaccine makes people think they are safe from other STIs and so take more risks therefore HPV vaccine = bad. 


Lets hope more balance will arise in all news (but especially sexual health news) by the rise in citizen journalism.