April 23, 2008

This isn't another item about how and why abstinence-only programs — championed by the Bush administration and conservatives everywhere — don’t work, waste money, mislead young people about reality, and undermine public health. Instead, it’s about Republicans’ reaction to the evidence on abstinence-only programs.

This week, for example, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on the effectiveness of government-sponsored abstinence-only curricula. Not surprisingly, researchers, medical professionals, and scientists in the field explained to lawmakers that the evidence is overwhelming — abstinence-only doesn’t reduce teen pregnancies, doesn’t reduce sexually transmitted diseases, and doesn’t even lead minors to abstain from sex.

So far, so good. Then, of course, committee Republicans piped up.

Republicans said even if some abstinence-only programs do not work, others do, and it would be wrong to end the funding.

Rep. John Duncan, a Tennessee Republican, said that it seems “rather elitist” that people with academic degrees in health think they know better than parents what type of sex education is appropriate. “I don’t think it’s something we should abandon,” he said of abstinence-only funding.

Just a few weeks after the so-called “bittergate” story prompted a media frenzy, the right has already taken to defining “elitism” down — it’s now apparently “elitist” for qualified experts to tell federal officials about available evidence while they consider how to spend federal resources.

As John Cole put it: "Damned elitists with their facts and figures and numbers and statistics and fancy degrees. What do they know about public health that a regular Joe from Tennessee doesn’t?"

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