Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pornography Source Analysis

Part of my job as an information science professional is to teach people how to evaluate the quality of information sources.  I have a particular interest in bias, misinformation and disinformation.  Which why I love Christian Post so much.  Let's have a look at a recent article of theirs on pornography for a lesson in what to look for in assessing information quality.

The first thing to look for is foundational bias.  That is, is the source writing from an objective point of view, or is there a going to be a fundamental bias to everything that it produces?  It can be demonstrated that Christian Post has a very strong bias against issues that run counter to the conservative Christian ideology, and that Christian Post is not above being dishonest in its coverage of these issues.  For example, CP has been known to manipulate numbers, cover only one side of a story and perpetuate hoaxes.  So from the outset, we know that there is a bias at work; it stands to reason that the slant of this story will go against pornography and that we should be on the lookout for dishonesty.  On the basis of this bias alone, we can expect that this article will not a reliable information source.

The next thing to do is ask who wrote this article and to determine if she qualifies as an expert on the subject she's writing about.  Christian Post does not provide a biography for Karen Gushta, nor does she have a Wikipedia page.  A search of the top one hundred academic databases shows no results for her, which means that she has no work published in any mainstream academic journals or news outlets.  Her LinkedIn page shows that she has a degrees in Education and Christianity.  However, this article touches on sociology, psychology and business, which are areas in which she has no formal training.  Accordingly, we can count on it to be reliable only if its claims about those subject areas are well-sourced.

Now let's look at the claims themselves, as well as what sort of support is provided for each.

Claim#1: 9 out of 10 children have "been affected" by pornography. 
Affected how?  We're not told.  The article then changes to the claim to 9 out of 10 children have seen pornography on the internet.  So the article misleadingly equates seeing pornography with suffering some sort of effect because of doing so.  In addition, that statistic is sourced to Donna Rice Hughes in the February issue of World; a complete citation is not given, making it difficult for the reader to track down the source to verify it.  The source turns out to be this interview, in which Hughes simply makes the claim as a bald assertion with no support or source given.

So Claim#1 is both unsupported and guilty of equivocation.

Claim#2: Pornography is readily available.
Claim#3: Pornography "looks for" viewers.
Claim#4: The porn industry makes $13 billion per year.
These claims are all attributed to Doug Carlson, and we are given another incomplete citation (, 5/17/2012), again making the reader work harder than necessarily to verify the source.  It turns out to be this opinion piece, which cites no sources in support of those claims.

So Claims#2-4 are unsupported.

Claim#5: Pornography may incite children to act out sexually against other children.
We again get an incomplete source (, but the claim is lifted verbatim from this page of that website, as are the next two claims.  However, there are two issues with that source:
First, the web page claims that its information comes from studies.  However, look at the citations given at the bottom of the page; they are both books.  So ProtectKids is not providing the sources it's claiming to use.
Second, even if the paragraphs were properly sourced, they don't support the claim being made.  The first paragraph states the cause of acting out against other children to be either molestation or pornography.  We have no way to know which, since we don't know which studies the data comes from.  The second paragraph does not even describe acting out against other children at all.

Since the source is clearly being dishonest, claim#5 is unsupported (and, in fact, being lied about).

Claim#6: Exposure to pornography shapes attitudes and values.
This claim has the first of the two problems that the last one did; it claims to get its information from studies but instead cites a book (in fact, the same book).

Since we're seeing exactly the same kind of misdirection as we did with claim#5, claim#6 is also unsupported.

Claim#7: Exposure to pornography interferes with a child's development and identity.
At least this section has the honesty to state that it's citing Dr. Victor Cline's book.  However, books are not subject to the peer review process, so anyone can claim anything they want to.  If Dr. Cline really had lots of evidence to support his claims, it would be available in the peer reviewed literature.  However, a search of that literature turns up nothing written by him.  In fact, the only article that mentions him characterizes him as a censorship advocate who lacks empirical support for this claims. [Tedford, T. L. (1978). UNPROVABLE ASSUMPTIONS? THE REASONS AND EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE OF TWELVE WHO FAVOR CENSORSHIP. Free Speech Yearbook, 9156]  So it's fair to say that Cline's claims should be taken with a sizable grain of salt.
Toward the very end of this section of the web page, we find an honest-to-goodness citation of a real live peer-reviewed article... from 1982!  You'd think that if internet porn were as harmful as the Christian Post article implies, they'd have been able to find a single article since the rise of the internet that supports that idea.

Claim#7 is partially supported at best, by sources that are either not timely or are of questionable reliability.

Claim#8: Two boys claim to have been harmed by pornography. though we can draw conclusions from a sample size of two.  In addition, we have no way to verify these claims, since they are merely anonymous anecdotes.  The are presumably drawn from this web page, which cites as its only source that prestigious bastion of scholarly research, People Magazine.

Claim#8 is unsupported.

Claim#9: Obscene pornography is illegal.
This claim is drawn from the same Donna Rice Hughes interview as Claim#1, and it is exactly the same sort of bald assertion, with no law cited or other support offered.

Claim#9 is unsupported.

Claim#10: The Obama administration has not filed any new charges against purveyors of adult pornography.
The source cited is this Politico article.  It debunks the claim at the very end, stating that charges were in fact filed against John Stagliano, who was acquitted.

Claim#10 is false.

Claim#11: Kids can access pornography because so few adult film producers are prosecuted.
This claim is sourced to a 2010 interview the Donna Rice Hughes gave to Truth in Action Ministries.  However, it cannot be verified because the interview is no longer accessible on that organization's website.

Claim#11 is unsupported.

Claim#12: Sexting is prevalent among high school students.
To its credit, the article cites a peer reviewed article to back up this claim (even though it only provides a partial citation, once again forcing the reader to hunt the source down).  The cited article does say exactly what the article claims is does.  While Cole Moreton's name is misspelled (reflecting CP's usual editorial standards), the Telegraph article also supports the point being made.

Claim #12 is SUPPORTED.

Claim#13: Prosecuting companies in control of pornographic websites would "clean up" the internet.
This claim is likely false, since the overwhelming majority of online pornography is legal on First Amendment grounds.  However, since Patrick A Trueman, who is making the claim, offers nothing to back it up, we'll settle for saying that...

Claim #13 is unsupported.

Claim #14: Children can be protected from pornography by following the three suggestions given by Donna Rice Hughes.
No evidence is offered to back up the idea that these suggestions are effective.

Claim #14 is unsupported.

So for all of the bluster about what a scourge pornography is, the article could back up exactly one of its fourteen claims.  Yes, sexting is prevalent, which is a problem.  But this article is not about sexting specifically, it is?  The purpose of this article is to roundly condemn all of pornography as harmful.

The article utterly fails to make even a marginally convincing case.  Instead it relies on anecdotes, bald assertions, dodgy "experts," outdated studies and flat-out dishonesty to elicit an emotional "oh my, we must save the children" response from gullible Christian parents.  It is an excellent study in disinformation.

But then, we would expect nothing less from the pious folks over at Christian Post, wouldn't we?

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