In her 3/16/2009 “Last Word” column, Anna Quindlen writes “Texas leads the nation in spending for abstinence-only programs. It also has one of the highest teen birthrates in the country. Those two sentences together sound like the basis for a logic question on the SAT, but a really easy one.”
She is quite right, but (I suspect) for the wrong reasons. While she does not specify what inference she is making, my guess is that she is taking the Texas situation as evidence that abstinence only programs do not work. If so, she would seem to be committing a fallacy ( or fallacies) of her own. It seems most likely that there is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy here. After all, the mere fact that Texas has the highest spending on abstinence only programs and a high teen birthrate does not show that such programs are not effective (nor would a decrease in birthrates prove, by itself, a causal connection). Another example with the same pattern of reasoning shows also shows the error: “Ted has gone through extensive cancer treatment and is on more medication than anyone I know, yet he still has cancer. Therefore the medicine and treatments must not work.” While the treatments and medicine did not cure him, they might very well be helping a great deal-by keeping him alive, for example. Likewise, Texas’ teen birthrate might be even higher without such programs. Or not-what is needed is further evidence to establish or prove the connection.
I am merely finding fault with that specific bit of “reasoning” (which she certainly seems to claim would be suitable to stand on its own as a SAT question) and actually agree with her overall position on the issue. As I point out to my students, just because you agree with a person’s position does not mean that you have to accept that all his/her reasoning is correct.