“This is Quantitative Research 101”

Warren Throckmorton is compiling reactions to the recent report (PDF) from the American Psychological Association’s Mental Health and Abortion Task Force. Among them is a comment from David Fergusson, the pro-choice author of an extensive study on the effect of abortion on young women in New Zealand. Fergusson isn’t impressed with the Task Force for drawing a sweeping conclusion based on evidence it admits is flawed and incomplete:

[…] In this respect, the response of the APA committee to this situation appears to follow the type of logic used by the Tobacco industry to defend cigarettes: since, in our opinion, there is no conclusive evidence of harm then the product may be treated as safe. A better logic is that used by the critics of the industry: since there is suggestive evidence of harmful effects it behooves us to err on the side of caution and commission more and better research before drawing strong conclusions. History showed which side had the better arguments.

Rachel MacNair offers a more inside view:

Though I keep my ears attuned, the task force membership was appointed and explicitly not open to any more nominations by the time I first heard about it.

Actually, there never had been any call for nominations. Membership had been decided by Division 35, psychology of women, and the Council apparently rubber-stamped the selection. I knew the fix was in at that point and subsequent events have confirmed this, but I gamely kept trying to talk about balance and science.


Setting aside the quality of the study itself, citing only one study in support of a politically-desired conclusion cannot be explained in any other way than a politically-motivated exercise. This is not a debatable point. This is Quantitative Research 101.

3 thoughts on ““This is Quantitative Research 101”

  1. It always helps, doesn’t it, to take a real good look at the reviewers before accepting the conclusions of a review?

  2. It does not escape me that this is the same APA which will not condemn its members’ professional involvement in military abuses….

  3. Lilo! Hi!

    That’s one of the reasons that I give particular credence to results that aren’t what the researcher wanted or expected to find given their ideology. (And it’s one of the reasons Fergusson’s study was a big deal.)

    Marysia, good point.

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