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.