ABC News: Conservatives Are Biggest Porn Consumers?

ABC News is excited about porn. At least excited by the "fact" that conservative and religious states have the highest levels of porn usage in the country. This, ABC says, is according to a study by Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business School. Yes, it's another one of those dime-a-dozen studies.

ABC trumpets the bare "facts" in its February 28 piece titled, "Porn in the USA: Conservatives Are Biggest Consumers." In its first few paragraphs the report claims that, "Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious" than states in the more liberal areas of the country. But there is a problem with ABC's heavy-handed claim. Even the Harvard researcher doesn't put too much emphasis on the "conservative states" aspect because his data doesn't show a very wide gulf between states, conservative or not.

In fact, professor Edelman takes pains to say, "When it comes to adult entertainment, it seems people are more the same than different." This tends to relay that the rates from state to state really aren't that notable. Edelman also says later in the piece that, "The differences here are not so stark," where it concerns the data he compiled.

The per thousand citizens numbers don't seem that varied from state to state, really. For instance, according to Edelman's stats the state with the lowest online purchases of porn was West Virginia at a rate of 0.50 per thousand residents. Yet the highest, Utah, was only at 1.69 per thousand. That is not such a big difference, is it? At least, Edelmen didn't seem to think it was too notable and it's his study!

In essence, ABC is making far more of these supposed differences than even the author of the study makes. Don't you wonder why that is?

There is one other small problem with Edelman's efforts (see pdf file of study HERE). His very first reference in the paper is built on a source long known to be completely false. On the second page of the report on his study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives (Vol 23, #1, Winter 2009), Edelman relies on the claims of porn industry trade publication AVN Media Network that says the online porn industry made $2.8 billion dollars in 2006. AVN also claims that the entire porn industry pulled in nearly $13 billion in 2006.

However, it has long been known that the numbers presented by AVN are in no way verifiable. Forbes Magazine took AVN's claims to task back in 2001 (after one of AVN's earlier reports of porn industry takings) and found the numbers impossible to verify. In 2001 Forbes reckoned that the industry could not have made more than $4 billion, a number far less than the $10 billion AVN was then claiming. A 2007Boing, Boing article also discussed the unverifiable AVN numbers.

Anyway, the point here is, if prof Edelman relied on AVN's fake claims, what else did he get wrong in his piece? What other methods and statistics were informed by shady sources?

Still, regardless of what Edelman did or didn't do, and regardless of whether his study is accurate, he wasn't making a big deal out of the conservative vs. liberal porn consumption. ABC, however, unaccountably tried to make one of the central points of the story.

Imagine that!