Saturday, December 17, 2011

"The Real Deal" Responds...

I've had a few requests over the past few days from people who have been following this story for me to publish any responses I get from, "The Real Deal of Saline County".

Here's what I have thus far.  On December 9th, I received my one and only response from the Director of "The Real Deal", Ms. Janet Dixon.  It's not much, but her response is as follows:

 Dear Mr. Mathys,

Thank you for your interest in our program.  My name is Janet Dixon and I'm the director for The Real Deal.  I apologize for the delayed response.  As you may know, the program is a week-long workshop for 8th grade students in Saline County.  The schools notify the parents by letter of the upcoming program and parents have the opportunity to "opt out" of their child's participation.

Here are resources that we use.

www.cdc.gov
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the leading federal agency for protecting the health and safety of people by providing credible information to enhance health decisions. Visit their site for research data on STDs and other health topics.

www.medinstitute.org
The Medical Institute for Sexual Health informs, educates, and provides solutions to medical professionals, educators, government officials, parents and the media about problems associated with sexually transmitted disease and nonmarital pregnancy.

Also:
AR Department of Health, Health Statistics Branch, Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Counting It Up, June 2011 "Teen Pregnancy in Arkansas", The Ark Department of Health, Center for Health Advancement, Family Health Branch, LR (09/11

Janet Dixon, APN, MPH

I didn't think much about her email since there's not much of anything in it.  There was so little in the email, that I was forced to send yet another email re-requesting the data (see below).  But now that I look at her response more carefully, I realize that these folks feel so secure in their position that they are not taking me seriously.  You see that last line item in her list of "citations"?  Ms. Dixon didn't even bother to copy/paste it correctly - cutting off the portion I would need to request the document from the Arkansas Department of Health.  Damn, I really wish I had noticed that before I sent my response.  Oh well...

Be that as it may, I'm sure most of you recognize that two of the line items in her list are NOT citations, they are websites.  Surely as an accomplished nurse she understands that websites do not qualify as citations and this is absolutely not what I asked for.  The funny thing about the links she sent to me is that the Medical Institute is known to present religiously biased doctors as experts.  Are the experts at the Medical Institute providing peer reviewed scientific studies or pushing an agenda?  How can I know unless I get real citations?

Plus, I can find scores of studies on the CDC website that contradicts what "The Real Deal" website claims.  (I also noticed that the website's reference to WebMD is mysteriously absent from her email, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.  She may have simply forgotten to include a link to the WebMD website.)  Then there's that third item, which is oddly incomplete.

Somehow I get the impression that these people are trying to ignore me.  Hmph.

One thing that did stand out in her response is that she claims it is the school's responsibility to notify the parents.  Isn't it remarkably convenient that her program is not responsible for notifying parents?  In other words, "Don't blame us for making kids sign an abstinence pledge.  You had a chance to opt out."

The fact that she can make that statement means that she knows her program is protected by the very immaturity of the 13 year-olds that she wants to exploit.  I find that appalling.  My kid's school district (Plano ISD) requires parents to sign a waiver before each student is allowed to participate in the portion of their health classes where they learn sexual education.  In other words, the decision to have our daughter participate in sex ed. was left up to me and my wife.  Whereas, Ms. Dixon and her fellow Real Dealers get the luxury of full participation unless a set of three small miracles are completed by 8th grade kids: 1) successfully get the opt-out letter home without forgetting, losing or soiling it, 2) remember to get their parents to actually read the letter & sign it, and 3) get the letter back to their teacher by the due date.  Most parents of teenagers understand that you have a better chance of winning the lottery than have these three steps completed by a young teen who simply doesn't care about a silly letter to their parents.

What a position these Real Dealers are in!  No response from the parents?  Great!  Step up to the table and sign your abstinence card, kiddo.

Now, I'd just love to see one of these letters that the school sends home to the parents.  Does it include "The Real Deal" letterhead - with that nefarious logo - along with a full admission of what these people plan on doing?  Somehow I doubt it.  I'd bet money that it comes home on the school's letterhead, if it comes home at all.  But I'll hold my judgment for later, because as of today, I've yet to get my original request fulfilled.  Plus, it's a bit early in the exchange for me to suddenly attack them for tactics that I perceive as a devious and detestable.

So in my response, I assumed that poor Ms Dixon simply didn't understand what it was I requested.  I took the high road, and apologized for not being clear the first time.  Here's what I sent:
Dear Ms. Dixon,

Thank you very much for replying to my email.  I should apologize as it appears that I may not have been as clear as I should have been in my previous email.

On your website, you claim that your program was evaluated by using a sample of nearly 1,000 students, and that your program has been highly effective in changing the attitudes that are directly linked to early sexual activity.  You also claim that your program reduced the sexual activity rates in girls by 40% and boys by 30%.  These are the claims for which I would like the citations.  Specifically, I would like the opportunity to review the study or studies that were used to substantiate the success rates of your program.

Second, your website lists you and several other people as board members for the program:

Robert Sterling
Sarah Hoofman
Nick Calaway
Lisa Morehead

I would also appreciate it if you and your fellow board members would provide a brief account of your premarital lives in abstinence.  Personally, I believe personal statements from the board members themselves should lend your program some credibility with the schools and parents.

Another aspect of your email that puzzles me is that you list two websites that do not support your numbers.  The third website, The Medical Institute (medinstitute.org) does not seem to be a credible scientific website free of bias.  Again, this may be my misinterpretation of your intentions, which is why I’m seeking a clarification for your supporting material.

Again, I do apologize if my first requests were a bit ambiguous.  Thank you very much for your time and I look forward to hearing from you and your fellow board members.
As you can see, my email to her was pretty tame for now.  We'll see if I have to send it again, since it's been a week now, and of course I haven't heard a peep.

If you haven't seen my original post, you can read it here to find out how all of this started.  Also, I should take a minute to thank Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist and PZ Myers of Pharyngula for getting this story some exposure.

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