Academic Integrity Applies to the Abortion Debate

13 Aug

The internet has a wealth of information; some good, some bad, some accurate, some inaccurate… but mostly, just a lot of it. As faculty at a university in New York City, I run into students using information that’s out there on the World Wide Web indiscriminately. They don’t fact-check. They don’t follow up with further research. They think that “Wikipedia” is a reliable source. They don’t site information that needs to be cited and they cite information, incorrectly, that is common knowledge. They plagiarize. My point is that my students, at a respected institution of higher education, don’t always care about whether the information that they are using is accurate or attributed. Sometimes they view cheating as an easy way to achieve their goals. No matter why they are choosing to cheat, or if they even realize that they are doing it, this causes a wealth of issues in a university setting that can culminate in their expulsion, which, obviously, has some very real-life consequences.

In the abortion debate, there is also a lot of misinformation and incorrect or absent attribution that also has very real-life consequences. How can we, either side, take each other seriously if we aren’t fact-checking to a standard? The standard that should be set for this information, and therefore the entire debate, is one of peer-reviewed medical accuracy. I mean the term “medical” to encompass areas of physical, psychosocial and mental health. “Peer-reviewed” means that there have been studies, in a controlled setting, that back up the hypothesis put forth by an academic (and before anyone gets offended, theologians are included in this category), or a medical professional. For example, this does not discount the very real psychological experiences of women who have had abortions, or the ones who have chosen not to for whatever reasons. Those experiences fall under “mental health information,” but are anecdotal. Anecdotal information can be of great value, especially when documented and further studied. If 100 women document their experience, and 100 women have similar experiences, then that provides a solid basis for a study on that particular experience. And with that sort of proof, an experience that one woman has is validated and can become a valuable part of this debate.

This is not happening with any consistency, though I would submit that the pro-choice side is doing it better than the anti-choice, where propaganda and misrepresentation appear to be the norm. There is little valuable research that is done on the effects of abortion or, conversely, on the affects of not having one. Where did the myth that “all women who have an abortion will get breast cancer” (http://www.abortionbreastcancer.com/) come from? If that were true, as the website is purporting, then any woman who has had a miscarriage will develop breast cancer.

The website uses this unattributed information to back up that statement:

The Independent Link: An Increase in Cancer-Vulnerable Breast Tissue

Abortion has been implicated with breast cancer in yet another way, however, and estrogen overexposure is the explanation for it. There is staggering evidence of an independent link between abortion and breast cancer. What this means is that a woman who has an abortion is left with more cancer-vulnerable cells than she had before she ever became pregnant. Biological evidence and more than two dozen studies worldwide support a cause and effect relationship. Fifteen studies were conducted on American women, and 13 of them reported risk elevations. Seven found a more than a twofold elevation in risk. Seventeen are statistically significant, 16 of which demonstrated a positive association. The term “statistical significance” means that scientists are at least 95% certain that their findings are not due to chance or error.

The evidence of a causal relationship between abortion and breast cancer isn’t only based on a statistical relationship either. Scientists also require biological evidence and a reasonable biological explanation before concluding that there’s a causal relationship. These requirements have been met.”

If a student handed this in to me, I would have added these corrections:

“The Independent Link: An Increase in Cancer-Vulnerable Breast Tissue

Abortion has been implicated with breast cancer in yet another way, however, and estrogen overexposure is the explanation for it (Estrogen overexposure is defined as what, exactly? This is not self-evident). There is staggering evidence of an independent link between abortion and breast cancer (Citation needed). What this means is that a woman who has an abortion is left with more cancer-vulnerable cells than she had before she ever became pregnant (How? More detail is necessary. Citation needed as well). Biological evidence and more than two dozen studies worldwide support a cause and effect relationship (What studies? Citation needed). Fifteen studies were conducted on American women, and 13 of them reported risk elevations (Again, what studies? Citation needed). Seven found a more than a twofold elevation in risk (Citation needed). Seventeen are statistically significant, 16 of which demonstrated a positive association (Seventeen what? Studies? or women involved in the studies? Clarification and citation needed). The term “statistical significance” means that scientists are at least 95% certain that their findings are not due to chance or error.

The evidence of a causal relationship between abortion and breast cancer isn’t only based on a statistical relationship either. Scientists also require biological evidence and a reasonable biological explanation before concluding that there’s a causal relationship. These requirements have been met (How? By whom? Citation needed).”

This is just one tiny example of misleading information that is being presented as fact with no documentation, no peer-reviewed studies, no double-checking. Women who see this information and think that it is accurate may be frightened by it. They may not get the help they need or want because they have been scared by inaccurate and unattributed information. This completely lacks integrity. This is downright immoral.

Until information is being presented with peer-reviewed, factual, medically accurate studies, women will suffer. This must stop. Now.

6 Responses to “Academic Integrity Applies to the Abortion Debate”

  1. Allison August 13, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    This is an excellent post. I have sometimes lurked a Catholic forum to see what I was missing by not getting confirmed (in short- not much, and nothing good), and it seems like every other week there’s a post about a new “study” that shows how abortion and/or hormonal birth control (or nonhormonal, in the case of the copper IUD, better known as the “abortion device” among devout online Catholic circles. My eye muscles are getting really strong from all the rolling they do) is supposedly “awful”.

    Of course, there’s a link to an article on an anti-choice news website (a COMPLETELY unbiased source, right?!), which may or may not contain a link to at least the abstract of the actual study. 99% of the time, the “articles” on the anti-choice website are twisted versions of the studies themselves. Sorry, but reading the abstract is NOT enough to report accurately. What’s the sample size? Is it peer-reviewed? Are the results statistically significant? These are all things brought up in this post.

    Unfortunately, inaccurate reporting of studies isn’t just limited to ones on reproductive health and those reported by clearly biased sources. Mainstream media sites are also guilty of not fact-checking. There’s a great web comic that I can’t seem to find now, but it demonstrated the difference between results of a study and how it was reported as news of it was passed around. It started with something like “A is sometimes associated with C” and by the time it made it to the blog circuit and local news media, it had morphed into “A ALWAYS, WITHOUT FAIL causes C”

    I’m thankful for my college English, sociology, and statistics classes that taught me to look beyond the article, and go directly to the source for the correct information.

  2. Emily August 13, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    “Estrogen overexposure” in and of itself makes no sense. Women aren’t exposed to estrogen through abortion. It’s a hormone that is created by the woman’s body and is released throughout her body. Estrogen levels increase in women after having an abortion, having a miscarriage, and giving birth! Estrogen levels increase in women and men during puberty. Are anti-choicers against miscarriage? Giving birth? Puberty?

    Protecting women from breast cancer is not the anti-choicers’ goal, as evidenced by the fact that anti-choice organizations chastised the Susan G. Komen Foundation for giving some of their donations to Planned Parenthood to help fund breast cancer screenings at their clinics. Anything they can do to control women, they’ll do it.

  3. WeCanChangeIt August 14, 2010 at 9:10 pm #

    My favorite site for this stuff is abortionfacts.com. You’d think, hmm, yes, I would like some real facts about abortion. Instead, it’s loaded with scare tactics and fabrications. Second hit on google after the wikipedia entry on abortion. Ridiculous.

  4. NYCprochoiceMD August 16, 2010 at 5:18 am #

    @Emily, I definitely think antis are against puberty!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Academic Integrity Applies to the Abortion Debate  | Abortion Gang -- Topsy.com - August 13, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sharon, Christian Prochoicer and The Abortion Gang, The Abortion Gang. The Abortion Gang said: new post : Academic Integrity Applies to the Abortion Debate http://j.mp/c1vNVM […]

  2. Sunday News Round-Up, Hot Tomato Edition « 3acne.co.cc - August 15, 2010

    […] abortion gang notes what is lacking in some common forms of anti-abortion “information” […]

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