The busted myths of 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Every big news story spawns misinformation, allegations and misperceptions -- and every week, Outlook takes them on in our 5 Myths feature. Here's a look back at some of the hot-button issues that dominated public debate in the past year.

Investing in new technology is key to better security.

Placing too much reliance on sophisticated tools such as X-ray machines often leaves the people staffing our front lines consumed with monitoring and troubleshooting these systems. Consequently, they become more caught up in process than outcomes. And as soon as procedures become routine, a determined bad guy can game them.

We would do well to heed two lessons the U.S. military has learned from combating insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan: First, don't do things in rote and predictable ways, and second, don't alienate the people you are trying to protect. Too much of what is promoted as homeland security disregards these lessons. Full-body imaging machines . . . are far more effective than metal detectors at screening airline passengers. But new technologies are also expensive, and they are no substitute for well-trained professionals who are empowered and rewarded for exercising good judgment.

- From "5 myths about keeping America safe" by Stephen Flynn, Jan. 3

Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts Senate race means health-care legislation is dead.

Their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate is now a thing of the past, and Democrats have been left to scramble to salvage President Obama's main legislative priority. Options remain, though, even if none of them are very appealing, particularly since Speaker Nancy Pelosi's pronouncement that the votes are simply not there to pass the Senate bill through the House without any changes. The simple political reality is this: The White House believes that any bill at this point is better than no bill at all. Remember that this president was elected to get Washington working again; an utter collapse of health-care reform would badly undermine that image.

- From "5 myths about the Massachusetts election" by Chris Cillizza, Jan. 24

Gay priests are to blame for the Catholic Church abuse scandal.

Some defenders of the Catholic Church's response . . . say that homosexual priests are responsible for the majority of abuses, in part because more than 80 percent of the victims are male. They argue that true pedophiles - adults who are pathologically attracted to pre-pubescent children - constitute a small minority of offenders. Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone repeated this gay-pedophile link . . . and such reasoning was partially behind a 2005 Vatican policy barring gays from seminaries.

Such assertions have numerous flaws. For one thing, research shows that gay men are no more likely to molest children than straight men. (And celibacy doesn't seem to be a determining factor, either.) Yes, 80 percent of the victims were male, but many offenders assaulted children of both sexes. . . . Finally, while critics of gay clerics fret that homosexuals dominate the priesthood and endanger children, in fact the ostensible increase in gay priests in recent years has coincided with a sharp decrease in reports of child abuse by clergy.

- From "5 myths about the Catholic abuse scandal" by David Gibson, April 18

Immigrants take jobs from American workers.

Immigrants tend to be concentrated in high- and low-skilled occupations that complement - rather than compete with - jobs held by native workers. And the foreign-born workers who fill lower-paying jobs are typically first-hired/first-fired employees, allowing employers to expand and contract their workforces rapidly. As a result, immigrants experience higher employment than natives during booms - but they suffer higher job losses during downturns, including the current one.

It's true that an influx of new workers pushes wages down, but immigration also stimulates growth by creating new consumers, entrepreneurs and investors. As a result of this growth, economists estimate that wages for the vast majority of American workers are slightly higher than they would be without immigration. U.S. workers without a high school degree experience wage declines as a result of competition from immigrants, but these losses are modest, at just over 1 percent. Economists also estimate that for each job an immigrant fills, an additional job is created.

- From "5 myths about immigration" by Doris Meissner, May 2

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