## Why the Pope needs to take a Statistics class.

First, let me say that I pay little attention to the Pope or his statements. I spent eight years of my life in catholic school ignoring Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI has joined that club. In a recent visit to Africa, Pope Benedict exclaimed, “You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters aboard the plane heading to Yaoundé. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

Okay, let’s do a little basic statistics/ research methods. I know, I’m doing the “professor thing” but trust me it’s important. We have a public health crisis and you suggest condom distribution increases the problem. To figure out if this is true, we need to look at the relationship between passing out condoms and cases of HIV/AIDS. Benedict is claiming that passing out condoms actually increases the epidemic.

Key term: correlation. Correlation essentially tells you how related two things are. In basic statistics you learn that things can be correlated with each other, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one thing cause another.

Okay, now that we’ve got correlation down, let’s look at a classic example of why correlation doesn’t mean causation (the fancy way of saying one thing causes another).

Fact: As the number of ice cream cones sold increases, the number of homicides increases.

Not a fact: Folks who buy ice cream cones are homicidal maniacs and their lactose intolerance drives them to murder.

Reality: There are are more ice cream cones sold in the summer, homicides tend to happen in the summer. Just because they are related doesn’t mean one causes the other to occur.

See, now you see why Pope Benedicts statement is asinine and dangerous. Pope Benedict, saying that distributing condoms increases the problem would mean that condom distribution increased the epidemic. Ridiculous! Particularly on the continent, with many countries suffering from astronomical rates of HIV/AIDS, not distributing profilatics would likely increase the transmission of the disease. While Benedict is sticking with his sect’s insistence upon the non-use of contraception, following their doctrine could lead us further down the rabbit hole. Additionally, large numbers of married and unmarried people have HIV/AIDS, which essentially means advocating against contraception within relationships will likely increase the transmission of HIV/AIDS by exposing more people to additional hazard. You know, I can’t really figure out a way that the approach he’s advocating would be good for these countries ravaged by the most devastating disease of our time.

It worries me that people will follow the Pope’s statement and align themselves without seriously interrogating the “real world” implications of his doctrine. Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox… for right now.

Filed under: End of the World, Food for Thought, General, Health, International

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• http://www.ricoexplainsitall.com rico

I'm not feeling the pope on this issue either. I think on some level what he meant (or what I hope he meant) was that the distribution of condoms may be dangerous because peole my feel “hell I'm wearing a condom I can't catch HIV.” I think condoms, unless coupled with education about the disease, may be placing a band aid on cancer.

Ultimately, I think the Pope is well off because I think what he wants is celibacy more so than responsible sexual behavior and that's simply unrealistic. If people are going to be having sex anyway, they are better off with a condom than without one.

Great post. Enjoyed the read.

• http://www.ricoexplainsitall.com rico

I’m not feeling the pope on this issue either. I think on some level what he meant (or what I hope he meant) was that the distribution of condoms may be dangerous because peole my feel “hell I’m wearing a condom I can’t catch HIV.” I think condoms, unless coupled with education about the disease, may be placing a band aid on cancer.

Ultimately, I think the Pope is well off because I think what he wants is celibacy more so than responsible sexual behavior and that’s simply unrealistic. If people are going to be having sex anyway, they are better off with a condom than without one.

Great post. Enjoyed the read.

• Ashwini

Read this a couple of days ago. With this and the excommunication of the doctors in Brazil who performed an abortion for a nine year old who had been the victim of rape and incest (they backtracked after international outrage: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/…), the Vatican is really on a winning streak right now. Which raises the question–why can't Catholics be Catholic without the Vatican? Or at least without such a rich, powerful, wealthy and destructive Vatican?

• Ashwini

Read this a couple of days ago. With this and the excommunication of the doctors in Brazil who performed an abortion for a nine year old who had been the victim of rape and incest (they backtracked after international outrage: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article5917765.ece), the Vatican is really on a winning streak right now. Which raises the question–why can’t Catholics be Catholic without the Vatican? Or at least without such a rich, powerful, wealthy and destructive Vatican?

• http://iamdinabanana.blogspot.com Dina B.

dumi, i love this. and i love statistics! it's not just the pope, too many people go around quoting percentages/correlations, like if it really means anything on its own. statistics help you reach evidence for causation, not prove causation.

but for him to say it increases the problem…?? sounds like bush's rhetoric here in the US with his ABC program. homie, people are having sex and have never listened to the talk about abstinence, and denying that truth is what “increases the problem” of HIV/AIDS. thanks for the commentary

• http://iamdinabanana.blogspot.com Dina B.

dumi, i love this. and i love statistics! it’s not just the pope, too many people go around quoting percentages/correlations, like if it really means anything on its own. statistics help you reach evidence for causation, not prove causation.

but for him to say it increases the problem…?? sounds like bush’s rhetoric here in the US with his ABC program. homie, people are having sex and have never listened to the talk about abstinence, and denying that truth is what “increases the problem” of HIV/AIDS. thanks for the commentary

• http://sexwithtimaree.com timaree

i'm with rico on this, i never for a moment thought that the pope, with the infinite research methods courses required for his job, actually felt that correlation was causality. he just falls under the category of people who err in believing that any discussion of sexual health or disease prevention will inherently increase sexual behavior and therefore risk.

remember, this is the same church that believes the morning after pill is tantamount to an abortion. they're not real big on science. but they do love rhetoric.

• dumilewis

Ya'll are smart, no for real, I appreciate folks who think deeply about stuff, now for a comment or two:
I think the thing that gets me the most is that he's sticking to a doctrine that is “out of touch” with what people are doing and I would argue in that sense it's not doing what doctrine is supposed to do “guide people.” Reliance on the Pope is a whole 'nother question. Different folks “follow” for different reasons. I respect their right to do so, but also hope we all acknowledge that man is certainly fallible, which includes the pope! Had he simply made the statement that condoms don't end the problem, I wouldn't beef as much, but saying they make it worse is a causal statement. I know what he was “getting at” but as Timaree said, “he just falls under the category of people who err in believing that any discussion of sexual health or disease prevention will inherently increase sexual behavior and therefore risk.” And that is a HUGE problem. If we don't talk about sexual health in more complex ways we end up with the same narrow solutions which are driven by ideology but have little impact on curbing the issues we face.

• http://sexwithtimaree.com timaree

i'm with rico on this, i never for a moment thought that the pope, with the infinite research methods courses required for his job, actually felt that correlation was causality. he just falls under the category of people who err in believing that any discussion of sexual health or disease prevention will inherently increase sexual behavior and therefore risk.

remember, this is the same church that believes the morning after pill is tantamount to an abortion. they're not real big on science. but they do love rhetoric.

• dumilewis

Ya'll are smart, no for real, I appreciate folks who think deeply about stuff, now for a comment or two:
I think the thing that gets me the most is that he's sticking to a doctrine that is “out of touch” with what people are doing and I would argue in that sense it's not doing what doctrine is supposed to do “guide people.” Reliance on the Pope is a whole 'nother question. Different folks “follow” for different reasons. I respect their right to do so, but also hope we all acknowledge that man is certainly fallible, which includes the pope! Had he simply made the statement that condoms don't end the problem, I wouldn't beef as much, but saying they make it worse is a causal statement. I know what he was “getting at” but as Timaree said, “he just falls under the category of people who err in believing that any discussion of sexual health or disease prevention will inherently increase sexual behavior and therefore risk.” And that is a HUGE problem. If we don't talk about sexual health in more complex ways we end up with the same narrow solutions which are driven by ideology but have little impact on curbing the issues we face.

• http://sexwithtimaree.com timaree

i’m with rico on this, i never for a moment thought that the pope, with the infinite research methods courses required for his job, actually felt that correlation was causality. he just falls under the category of people who err in believing that any discussion of sexual health or disease prevention will inherently increase sexual behavior and therefore risk.

remember, this is the same church that believes the morning after pill is tantamount to an abortion. they’re not real big on science. but they do love rhetoric.

• dumilewis

Ya’ll are smart, no for real, I appreciate folks who think deeply about stuff, now for a comment or two:
I think the thing that gets me the most is that he’s sticking to a doctrine that is “out of touch” with what people are doing and I would argue in that sense it’s not doing what doctrine is supposed to do “guide people.” Reliance on the Pope is a whole ‘nother question. Different folks “follow” for different reasons. I respect their right to do so, but also hope we all acknowledge that man is certainly fallible, which includes the pope! Had he simply made the statement that condoms don’t end the problem, I wouldn’t beef as much, but saying they make it worse is a causal statement. I know what he was “getting at” but as Timaree said, “he just falls under the category of people who err in believing that any discussion of sexual health or disease prevention will inherently increase sexual behavior and therefore risk.” And that is a HUGE problem. If we don’t talk about sexual health in more complex ways we end up with the same narrow solutions which are driven by ideology but have little impact on curbing the issues we face.

• http://sexwithtimaree.com timaree

i'm with rico on this, i never for a moment thought that the pope, with the infinite research methods courses required for his job, actually felt that correlation was causality. he just falls under the category of people who err in believing that any discussion of sexual health or disease prevention will inherently increase sexual behavior and therefore risk.

remember, this is the same church that believes the morning after pill is tantamount to an abortion. they're not real big on science. but they do love rhetoric.

• dumilewis

Ya'll are smart, no for real, I appreciate folks who think deeply about stuff, now for a comment or two:
I think the thing that gets me the most is that he's sticking to a doctrine that is “out of touch” with what people are doing and I would argue in that sense it's not doing what doctrine is supposed to do “guide people.” Reliance on the Pope is a whole 'nother question. Different folks “follow” for different reasons. I respect their right to do so, but also hope we all acknowledge that man is certainly fallible, which includes the pope! Had he simply made the statement that condoms don't end the problem, I wouldn't beef as much, but saying they make it worse is a causal statement. I know what he was “getting at” but as Timaree said, “he just falls under the category of people who err in believing that any discussion of sexual health or disease prevention will inherently increase sexual behavior and therefore risk.” And that is a HUGE problem. If we don't talk about sexual health in more complex ways we end up with the same narrow solutions which are driven by ideology but have little impact on curbing the issues we face.