03 June 2005

The AIDS Issue - Theresa Tan Mucks It Up Again

Not too long ago, I criticised ST journalist Theresa Tan for her poorly thought-out article on teen HIV cases in Singapore. See here.

Today Theresa has written another article concerning AIDS. Again it is a poorly thought-out article that jumps to hasty conclusions. Let's take a look:

June 3, 2005
Undergrads think they're less prone to getting Aids
NUS poll findings have serious implications for Aids campaign
By Theresa Tan

ALMOST nine in 10 NUS undergraduates here are under the illusion that their chances of getting Aids are far below that of other people, a local survey has found.

Yet, nearly eight out of 10 feel the Aids campaign with the message that 'No One is Immune from Aids' is effective.
Theresa tells us that most NUS undergrads are of the mistaken impression that their chances of getting AIDS are far below that of other people.

At the same time, she seems to find delicious irony in the fact that most NUS undergrads think that the "No One Is Immune From AIDS" campaign is effective.

In case you haven't detected the flaw yet in Theresa's logic yet, let me explain it to you.

I, Mr Wang Zhen, share one thing in common with most NUS undergrads. I believe that my chances of getting AIDS are very low. What is the basis of my belief?
    1. I do not frequent prostitutes.
    2. I have never had sex with a prostitute.
    3. In fact I have never had sex with anyone except my wife.
    4. To the best of my knowledge and belief, she has never had sex with anyone but me.
    5. I do not abuse drugs and hence I do not share needles with anyone.

Therefore I believe that my chances of getting AIDS are very low. And I do not think that my belief is mistaken.

Theresa Tan tells us that most NUS undergrads believe that they have a low chance of getting AIDS. She also tells us that this belief is an illusion. But why does Theresa think so?

It may well be the case that most NUS undergrads, like Mr Wang Zhen, are indeed at low risk. For example, many of these undergrads may still be virgins. Others may be engaging only in safe sex. Only a very small minority may actually be promiscuous.

If Theresa wants to show that the NUS undergrads are really under an illusion of low risk, then she must give evidence that in fact, NUS undergrads engage in high-risk behaviour. Where is that evidence? It is not found anywhere in Theresa's article.
    Does she tell us that many NUS undergrads have multiple sex partners?

    Does she tell us that many NUS undergrads do not know what a condom is?

    Does she tell us that many NUS undergrads visit prostitutes?

    Does she tell us that many NUS undergrads abuse drugs and share needles?

    Does she tell us that many NUS undergrads are poorly educated like so many Africans and simply cannot comprehend the concept of a virus?

No, no, no, no and no.

Here are Theresa's only teeny-weeny attempts to provide some evidence:
Yet global figures show a worrying number of young people getting infected by the HIV virus: Over half of all new infections are among those aged between 15 and 24.
Theresa cites global figures. Not "Singapore figures" or "Asian figures". Or even "Asia-Pacific figures".

"Global" includes South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, India, Thailand, the United States etc. Certainly we can't take the figures to reliably indicate anything about young Singaporeans.

Much less young Singaporeans who are studying at a particular institution in Singapore known as the National University of Singapore.
In Singapore, at least three teens, an unprecedented number, were infected with the HIV virus last year, when the number of new Aids cases jumped 28 per cent to 311.
As I had mentioned in my previous post, Theresa's understanding of statistics is seriously in doubt. Her own previous article tells that every single year from 2000 to 2003, the number of new teen HIV cases has been one or two. In 2004, despite highly increased frequency of testing, we found only three new cases.

This is hardly an amazing or remarkable "increase". It certainly doesn't point to any real upward trend in the number of teen HIV cases.

In fact, it is noteworthy that there were 311 new AIDS cases in Singapore, and only three of these cases involved teens. Thus teen cases form less than 1% of the overall AIDS cases.

I am all for AIDS education. But let's do it the right way. We don't need to stir up paranoia where it's not justified. Each year, the number of NUS undergrads who:

- get killed or seriously injured in traffic accidents;
- attempt suicide or suffer a mental breakdown due to exam stress;
- get struck by lightning or swept away in a tsunami; or
- contract some disease like leukaemia, SARS or dengue fever

is probably greater than the number of new teen HIV cases in the entire country.

Safe Sex


1. Better Living Through Buttermilk


Monkey said...

disclaimer: I tried my best to read through everything. if i'm repeating anything that is mentioned, i apologize

i absolutely agree that what she is writing about is a joke. in the first place, having made it as far to university as it is, they have passed the co-ed junior college years where most single sex school students go on a rampage. also, it is rather accurate to say that being in a university, the knowledge of safe sex is higher although I do not think people practice it even if they know what a condom is but it's more a preference than a university student thing. Although most I know are more aware of the impact on their future if they get pregnant (male/female).

also wouldn't it be more LOGICAL than delusional that NUS undergrads advocate the "no one is immune from aids" campaign because without the education from the campaign, they probably wouldn't be so sure that they are safe. The awareness that they need education probably correlates to the high number that feels they are practicing safe sex. Of course I"m not running any statistical tests and I know there is that idea that they THINK they are safe but everybody (else) is immune a rather pompous idea.

but I must say that in singapore sex education... ok sex education EVERYWHERe needs to be more prevalent and updated. for example there are more and more contraceptives for birth control with increased effectiveness but none of them prevent STD/AIDS except condoms. O_O"

[end rant] :D

tscd said...

Hello Mr Wang, I just wanted to say thank you for writing this blog. It's difficult to keep up with Singapore-related news when one is abroad and blogs like yours keep me updated - and probably better informed than I would be if I'd read STonline.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Monkey - glad you agree. Alas, I think most ST readers are not so discerning and would be misled by Theresa's article.

TSCD - thanks! Hope the weather is getting better where you live.

Monkey said...

at least the NUS undergrad wrote in. It is a well known fact, or at least academically, that survey questions can be very misleading in the way that it's phrased and also on how different people perceive the same question.

As a NUS undergrad, one tends to feel more implicated when random reporters try to "create news" for the readers hungry for legalized porn and scandals. For example, there was that whole thing about sex in hostels and privacy in dorm rooms, blah blah blah. Is the university system so pristine and dissociated from the heartlands that people just want to find smirch and smut with us?

and i guess we cannot expect ST readers to be discerning, afterall, they read it.

heh ok now i just appear to be condescending but i don't read ST :) Unfortunately it is a source of local news. But just like many americans who read BBC as opposed to CNN for US news, I prefer other sources. But like TSCD, I must say it is more enlightening to read your blog.

argh another long rant :P misinformed, sensationalized news reports/articles/comments based on ignorant and sweeping opinions about sex in singapore aggravates me so.

tscd said...

I once spoke to an NUS undergraduate, randomly, at a bus stop about types of contraception. Was surprised to hear that she really believed that she would never get pregnant because she never kissed her boyfriend. I really *really* hope she was kidding.

Thrasymachus said...

As conservative as Singaporeans are,
As secretive as Singaporeans are,
As reluctant as Singaporens are to do surveys,
As apprehensive as Singaporeans are,

No statistics that encompass surveys that is done locally, targetting locals, should be treated seriously. Simply because Singaporeans and Asian attitudes towards the secrecy of their personal lives. We are far unlike the west in the sense that we are open for comments and questions on our personal lifestyle. Asians hate people who stare at the lifestyle and personal life.

Conclusion? ST make do with what they have, a population of "safe deposits", and we should take into the methodologies and constraints of Asian societies.