Gays spread AIDS, Malay kids are dumb
Yes, the title is deliberately provocative, but bear with me...
Every year the Ministry of Education releases "data on the performance of the major ethnic groups", with the purported aim of "provid[ing] feedback to the communities on how their children fared in the national examinations".
Now take a look at these charts, which give the performance of children in the PSLE exams by their ethnic group.
You will find that with the exception of Mother Tongue, Malay kids consistently perform worse than their Chinese or Indian counterparts.
Given that this is the only way the data is presented, one is tempted to conclude that Malay kids are dumb, and do poorly in every subject except Malay.
Now is that an accurate interpretation?
There are several problems when we present data this way. First of all, as soon as you draw an average or overall score, chances are one or more race will score above the average, and one or more race will score below the average.
Someone is going to look dumb.
Secondly, for any data to be useful, the classification must tell us something about causation, and hopefully give us a clue about a solution.
Now imagine you were a Malay 'community leader'. Just what exactly are you supposed to do when presented with data like that above?
Well, you can either accept that the classification used reflects the true cause of the problem, and conclude that Malay kids are dumb because they are Malay, in which case there is not much you can do except perhaps to encourage inter-racial marriages or hope evolution will do its best.
Or, you can decide that race is only a correlation and not a cause in this case, and that the causation is likely to be multi-factorial and not something as simple as what colour your skin is, and ask for more data.
How do children from families of different income groups fare compared to each other? Do children from single-parent families do worse, and do children who have a parent at home full-time do better? Does the langauge spoken in the child's home make a difference?
Don't you think all these factors are likely to influence how well a child does in school?
With such data, we might be able to find out how we can help the children who are not doing well - Chinese, Indian or Malay - to do better. Without such data, people are left to conclude that Malay kids are dumb.
(Of course, at the level of the individual teacher, this sort of data is even less meaningful: if a Malay child is scoring above 80% consistently, there is no reason why I should worry that he will do poorly in his PSLE just because he is Malay, is there? Conversely, if a Chinese child is barely passing his tests, I woldn't assume his Chinese-ness will make him ace his finals.)
So what does all this have to do with gays and AIDS, you ask?
Locally, HIV is seen predominantly as a MSM disease because while they make up only a small percentage of our total population, they account for about 30% of the total HIV cases here.
(The MOH site also breaks down the cases by age, marital status and ethnic groups, but we almost never hear people say that HIV is a Chinese disease, or singles' disease, do we?)
Granted the type of sexual act correlates with orientation, but is anal sex between men any different from anal sex between a man and a woman?
Would not other information like number of partners and consistency of condom use be useful to us?
With such data, we may find that HIV spreads because of promiscuity and failure to practise safe sex. Without such data, people are left to conclude that HIV is a gay disease.
The Ministry continues to look at the HIV/AIDS problem as a MSM problem, and so continues to politicise and moralise the issue, as evident from the front-page article on Today today.
To its credit, Today also published this article from Helen Epstein, in which she relates:
People always ask me: "Fighting Aids requires a social movement. How do you generate a social movement?" Well, one thing that always galvanises people is a common enemy.
Too many donor-funded Aids programmes have divided people: HIV-positive from HIV- negative, "moral" from "immoral", high-risk from low-risk. Such programmes send the message that people with Aids are the enemy.
Ugandans and gay men knew early that the enemy was HIV itself.
Do read the whole article.
(angry doc would like to thank palmist for inspiring this post.)