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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

UNICEF Misrepresentation

NEWSFLASH! Extra, Extra! United States needs to become more like those civilized Northern European countries, so says report from UNICEF. AP reporter laps up all information and quotes provided by UNICEF and practically soils himself with excitement. The United States is given the chance to respond to the charges in paragraph 18. Read all about it!
When you're done fretting over the horrible state of our country and wondering when, oh when, we will get to institute some of the wonderful socialist type programs those lucky Europeans have, please read the entire 2007 Innocenti Report Card. It is approximately 50 pages and I will guarantee you, the AP writer of the above story didn't read more than what the brief summery provided by the UNICEF PR department contained. He was probably so excited to get this groundbreaking story out the door that he failed to do basic research first. I'll get to the report in a minute but first I want to comment on why shoddy journalism pisses me off. I studied journalism and worked at a few small papers and I would have failed every class and been chewed out numerous times if I would've tried to pass off as reporting this UNICEF fluff piece, which is worth maybe slightly more than the paper it's printed on. Upon receiving a press release the first thing I did was CHECK THE FACTS. I couldn't assume that Bob's Restaurant down the street had the best burgers in town based on a random survey just because his press release said so. Sure, I'd talk to Bob but I would also talk to those who conducted the survey and made sure they were on the level, then I'd talk to competitors then I'd get public comment on the survey to make my story. Then my editor would check it for accuracy and it'd go to press. Anyone who goes to UNICEF's website and reads the entire report (it's a lot of graphics) can see the problems with the report and how the data could be misread to support any number of conclusions. Treating it as gospel serves only to inflate the egos of the authors (who's views don't reflect those of UNICEF, according to the second page of the document) and those who want to find any reason to slam the US and push us down the path of the "enlightened" Europeans. For those who would love to set up taxpayer funded daycare, universal health care and more top-down programs, this report is a dream come true. The AP writer took this report at face value and originally the story went over the wire before including any quotes disputing the claims against the U.S. Now that some quotes have been added, they do little to change the message of the article. We, as consumers of the media, cannot stand to have misinformation passed off as truth. We must demand integrity, responsibility and accountability. Certainly our country has problems. The high teen birthrate reported in the study is one of them, however we can't allow ourselves to get riled up by sensationalism and accept whatever the media throws at us.
So there's my rant on the despicable way this report was paraded out over the wire. And now, here's some tidbits from the report you probably won't find in any major news story.
The following countries were left out of Summary Table of Countries (or top 21 listing) due to insufficient data; Australia, Japan, Iceland, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovak Republic, South Korea and Turkey. But if you skip ahead to the foot notes on 46, you'll see the U.S. was included in the final tally even though it provided insufficient data for the sixth category.
Data was complied from various studies, some from as early as 1998 and the report itself notes,"... it is acknowledged throughout that the available data may be
less than ideal and that there are prominent gaps." (pg3) I found no evidence that the authors did any new research for themselves.
An America family of four living under $35,000 a year is living in poverty according to the report. (Or a household with a total income less than 50% of the median income.)
A country's infant mortality is included in determining the Health and Safety rating. The US has one of the highest IM rates amongst the top 21. However in footnotes you'll see that, "countries with systematic [pre]-natal screening for serious disability, and the option of abortion, tend to have lower infant mortality rates." We obviously don't kill enough of our unborn to compete with the Scandinavians.
We also have a high incidence of low birth weight, but again if you look at those trusty footnotes they point out, "There are some limitations to the validity of low birth weight as an indicator of infant and child health in different societies. It is more common, for example, in some ethnic groups and in multiple births (often associated with in vitro fertilization.)"
Quite a few of the categories rely on subjective questions answered by 11,13 and 15 year olds not just the aptly titled Subjective Well Being. (See Material and Peer and Family categories.) Now, I'm not calling these kids liars but, I don't know if we can count these answers as hard, scientific data. You may feel deprived because you don't have your own bedroom or desk or get to vacation enough, but that doesn't mean you really are deprived.
For the most part, the authors admit the problems with the data throughout the report and the difficulty in analyzing it all across cultural lines, but that doesn't stop them from doing it. As pointed out in the footnotes, there are many factors to be considered in interpreting the data. And it's not like any of this is new information. The upsetting numbers regarding teen pregnancy and single parent homes in this country have been reported. To use these facts along with other studies and cram them together to form a ranking system seems to me like comparing apples and oranges and then shoving them into square holes. It's a mess being passed off as scholarship. Don't be fooled by AP or UNICEF.