Misleading infographics and contraception

Every once in a while, my mindless internet procrastination is interrupted by some bright, ignorant, and intentionally misleading infographic. This most often happens on facebook, but no corner of the internet is completely free from this plague. And they come from all across the political spectrum–though since I mostly browse left-leaning websites, I might be biased.

Thus it happened today. And as it happens every month or so, I was compelled to write an angry comment in response. Here’s the offending image:

Image

And my response:

  1. Women below 15 are excluded because most are pre-pubertal, women above 44 are excluded because most are post-menopausal. Pre-pubertal and post-menopausal women have no need of contraception for obvious reasons.
  2. I agree that it is a bit silly that they excluded the 30% of Catholic women that are not sexually active given that many of them do use contraception for health reason, such as polycystic ovary sindrome.
  3. I don’t know why they have a “what does this mean” comment on the “at risk” of becoming pregnant line, the study very clearly states that they exclude women that are pregnant, post-partum, or intending to become pregnant. None of these groups would take contraception for obvious reasons.
  4. Yes, the study does include women that use “natural methods”, but according to the study this accounts for only 2% of Catholic women.

Conclusion: Whoever made this image is either ignorant, did not read the article, or is intentionally trying to mislead people. Of course the study does not include 6-year-olds or women that are actively trying to get pregnant, it would be completely ridiculous for them to use contraception. Including pre-pubertal, post-menopausal, or pregnant women in a study of contraception would be as absurd as including Catholic men in a study about the use of contraception by Catholic women.
This is because the point of the study is not about the percentage of total Catholics, or Catholic women that use contraception, but only about the variance in contraception use between women according to their religion or non-religion. And it proves, to the necessary statistical significance, that religion has little to no effect in women’s choice to use contraception.

I know such angry comments are mostly pointless, and very unlikely to change the mind of someone who blindly believed the message in the infographic in the first place. But at least I get to feel like I’m fighting the good fight.

Edit: Not to mention I didn’t even bother to point out the fact that you can’t just add up percentages the way the do in the infographic. If 33% of women are not in the right age group, and 30% of women in the right age group are not sexually active, that doesn’t mean 69% (they didn’t even sum correctly) of women are excluded, it means 1-0.67*0.7 = 0.53 = 53% of women are excluded.

Edit 2: And finally, they weren’t even looking at the relevant data. The “98% of Catholic women have used contraception” claim is from this release and this table, and those include all sexually experienced women (meaning women that have had sex at some point in their lives), not just women that are currently sexually active.

Author: Mauricio Maluff Masi

My name is Mauricio Maluff Masi. I was born in Asunción, Paraguay; graduated from Pearson College, and I’m now a senior at Northwestern University majoring in Mathematics and Philosophy. This blog is where I publish my political musings and other writings. If you want to contact me, you can leave comments here or e-mail me at mmaluff (at) gmail (dot) com. You may also find me on twitter at @mmaluff.

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