A Whole Lot of Qualification Going on

A new RAND Corporation study that purports to show a link between teen pregnancy and viewing TV shows with strong sexual content seems just like the kind of publicity-engendering publication that researchers love as a way to help attract research dollars. Indeed, a look at the study’s abstract reveals language so tentative as to bring the whole exercise into question. Under “Conclusions,” it reads:

This is the first study to demonstrate a prospective link between exposure to sexual content on television and the experience of a pregnancy before the age of 20. Limiting adolescent exposure to the sexual content on television and balancing portrayals of sex in the media with information about possible negative consequences might reduce the risk of teen pregnancy. Parents may be able to mitigate the influence of this sexual content by viewing with their children and discussing these depictions of sex. [Emphases added.]

So there is a “link” — so what? That doesn’t necessarily imply causation, which could just as easily run the other way: One could just as easily conclude that more libidinous individuals seek out sexual content. Yet such a banal statement would not get headlines. Still, I must give the authors credit with qualifying their language so much as to dilute the link’s significance.