ADF's Substanceless Pornography Opinion

Over on the ADF's blog, Patrick Trueman is appalled by an article concering Anthony D'Amato's study that concluded that pornography may play a role in reducing rape. But this may be the most substanceless blog post you've ever seen. It contains one sarcastic remark followed by a red herring and then a conclusionary statement from others who think porn is bad, but not a word about the study or the arguments it makes. He begins:

This article titled, Pornography Has Its Benefits, demonstrates nothing more than that in a free-press society, anyone may write whatever regardless of the absurdity of the substance.

Okay, he's declared it absurd. Surely he'll be backing that up with some sort of logical argument, right? Nope. He continues:

The central theme of this article is that high pornography consumption lessens the likelihood of rape in a society and thus porn is beneficial. The author quotes a study indicating that, "The incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85 per cent in the past 25 years while access to pornography has become freely available to teenagers and adults." The author might as well have stated that as global warming continues, rape declines and thus there is a cause and effect.

No, this would be the sort of idiotic argument made by Trueman's religious right compatriots. How many times have you seen someone claim that after we took prayer out of schools, SAT scores declined and teen pregnancy went up, or some such nonsense? Amato's position is far more scholarly and serious. Trueman might know that if he had actually bothered to read it, but he apparently thinks that as long as he calls it absurd, he's defeated the argument.

He might also note that Amato's study is actually a counter to the standard religious right argument that pornography causes rape, a claim that is very hard to support in light of the fact that rape has been decreasing steadily for the past 34 years, the same time frame during which pornography has exploded in popularity and availability. Correlation is not always evidence of causation, of course, but if you're going to claim that one thing causes the other and the evidence shows an inverse correlation, you've got quite a problem trying to explain that away. Trueman doesn't even attempt to do so.

He then cites a conclusionary argument made by a group of religious right bigwigs like Alan Sears and James Dobson in a letter to President Bush. Basically, the argument here is "other people disagree". Well that settles it. I wonder if Trueman tries arguments like that in court when confronted with an expert witness discussing a study. "But your honor, I have a letter here from others saying they disagree." This is hardly an effective way to impeach a study.

There may well be arguments against the study's conclusion, but Trueman doesn't even attempt to make any. His post is completely devoid of any substantive argument.

More like this

What a lazy post ! - Trueman picks a writer who seems confused about causation vs. correlation, makes a quick slamdunk and then proceed to a non-sequitur of prestidigitation :

Trueman is wrong, so James Dobson is right ! ( not )

Thanks for this post - it may just inspire one of my own on a related subject :

As a group of 80 leaders said in a recent letter to President Bush, " ..hardcore pornography continues to inflict incalculable damage on children and families. It contributes to the destruction of marriage, the demeaning of both women and men, and the sexual exploitation of children and adults."

A group of 80 leaders has made a mass of unsubstantiated allegations backed by little to no evidence.

Now for some facts, per the US CDC and the FBI -

Rape : in decline for 2-3 decades.

Divorce : declining since the ealry 1980's

Murder : In decline since the early 1990's (may be up this year)

Teen Pregnancy : In decline since the early 1990's

Violent Crime : In decline since the early 1990's (may be up this year)

Veracity Of Christian right factual claims on societal trends: In decline since mid 1990's*

*note : last fact not directly derived from CDC or FBI data.

That's something a lot of people don't seem to get. Correlation is not causation but you can argue from correlations. It's almost as if they're interpreting that rule as correlation is totally meaningless when actually it's very helpful.

I think we need to amplify the correlation is not causation rule and extend it in the manner that is useful in this discussion. Something like, "Correlation is not causation, but anti-correlation may prove absence of causation."

That's a bit clunky, but it is a fair response to say to the Dobson's people that without even a basic correlation of the rise of porn to increasing crime against women, they don't have a leg to stand on.

The phrase "correlation is not causation" really should be "correlation is not necessarily causation." Correlation is the first step in a reasoning process to determine causation, but it requires more than just that. It requires some sort of coherent mechanism by which A leads to B. But a lack of correlation can and often does disprove causal arguments, as in this case. If porn causes rape but rape has gone down steadily while availability of porn has gone up, you've got a very difficult time explaining the data in light of the explanation.
Am I missing something, or is that five page paper really the whole study? It doesn't even begin to argue the conclusion that porn reduces rapes. Quote from the paper:

Aggregate per capita increase or decline in rape.
Four states with lowest internet access Increase in rape of 53%
Four states with highest internet access Decrease in rape of 27%

I find these results to be statistically significant beyond the .95 confidence interval.

I like the idea that porn would reduce sexual violence, but I won't buy it with this.

I don't buy that it has a causative effect in reducing rape either, but I do believe the anticorrelation argument is true, it's clearly not causing more rape, as with skyrocketing availability of porn we've seen nothing but decreases.

"I do believe the anticorrelation argument is true, it's clearly not causing more rape"

Well, yes, if we assume there is only one cause for rape. THE cause of a result would presumably need to correlate with the result, but A cause might not correlate, depending on what's happening with other causes.

In other words, if there are multiple causes for rape (which almost everyone, I think, agrees to be so), it is still possible for an increase in pornography to be causing more rape if reduction in some other cause(s) is responsible for lowering the incidence of rape so much that the overall numbers go down.

Forgive me for not being more clear. I should have said, the anti-correlation would appear to contradict the porn causes rape hypothesis. Any statements beyond that would require a more detailed analysis that I'm sure Dobson has not done.

Yes, this is a multivariate problem, and I over-simplified.

Bruce Wilson | October 3, 2006 09:48 AM

Divorce : declining since the ealry 1980's

This is true, but it should also be recognized that, in most states, the grounds available for divorce changed markedly in the 1970s--largely to no-fault divorce. The divorce rate went up substantially through the 1970s, reaching a peak in 1980-81, but I attribute much of that to "pent-up demand" that was unleashed due to the change in the law, and the subsidence of the divorce rate reflects that demand having been satisfied.

In addition, prior to the late 1970s, "shacking up" was much more frowned upon that subsequent to the late 1970s it became much more acceptable. Part of the decrease in the divorce rate may reflect the fact that fewer people are getting married, and hence have no use for divorce when they break up.

That's silly. Everyone knows it's the increase in pirates that drives the increase in porn.