another day…

…another watsoning.

this time it’s a (once) respected doctor by the name of lazar greenfield. here’s what he wrote that’s gotten him into hot water — this was in his st. valentine’s day editorial in the official newspaper of the american college of surgeons:

“As far as humans are concerned, you may think you know all about sexual signals, but you’d be surprised by new findings. It’s been known since the 1990s that heterosexual women living together synchronize their menstrual cycles because of pheromones, but when a study of lesbians showed that they do not synchronize, the researchers suspected that semen played a role. In fact, they found ingredients in semen that include mood enhancers like estrone, cortisol, prolactin, oxytocin, and serotonin; a sleep enhancer, melatonin; and of course, sperm, which makes up only 1%-5%. Delivering these compounds into the richly vascularized vagina also turns out to have major salutary effects for the recipient. Female college students having unprotected sex were significantly less depressed than were those whose partners used condoms (Arch. Sex. Behav. 2002;31:289-93). Their better moods were not just a feature of promiscuity, because women using condoms were just as depressed as those practicing total abstinence. The benefits of semen contact also were seen in fewer suicide attempts and better performance on cognition tests.

“So there’s a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have suspected, and now we know there’s a better gift for that day than chocolates.”

ok. so maybe the closing joke is a little tasteless for a professional journal. but that, of course, is not what the good doc is in deep sh*t for. apparently, everyone’s now questioning if he — AND the whole american college of surgeons — is sexist, racist, hates gays & lesbians, pulls the wings off flies and kicks small dogs. ok, ok. not the last two. but the rest — i kid you not!:

“While women now make up almost half of all entering medical school classes in the United States, fewer than a third choose to go into surgery, in part because of a perceived male bias, negative attitudes of surgeons and a lack of female mentors. Once in practice, studies have shown, well over half of all women surgeons report feeling demeaned, and nearly a third say they have been the objects of inappropriate sexist remarks or advances….

“It is less clear what attitudes Dr. Greenfield or other leaders of the organization have toward the college’s gay and lesbian members. ‘I think race and religion have made a lot more progress in the college than women, and particularly gay women or men,’ Dr. Brophy said. ‘This is probably the first time I’ve ever seen the word ‘lesbian’ used in a piece or associated with the college. Ever.'”

ok. now even i got why watson was watsoned. i mean, i didn’t understand it, of course — but even i know that you can’t say anything even remotely implying any differences between the races, especially if it reflects badly on non-whites, and even if your intentions are good.

but i really don’t get how what greenfield said was politically incorrect. ok. the joke at the end was a bit tasteless (i found it funny, tho — of course, that prolly confirms that it’s tasteless!) — but the rest of it is sound, afaics. if people have a problem with the FACTS, why don’t they go and try to disprove them?! (that’s a rhetorical question. don’t worry. i get it. we’re talking about power and political correctness here.) i mean, here’s the original research about depression in women and semen. GO TEST THE HYPOTHESIS AGAIN and see if it holds up or not!

sheesh.

and what the h*ck did he say about lesbians (and gays) that was offensive? just that their menstrual cycles don’t synchronize when they live together? (i never knew that.) what — WHAT — is offensive about pointing out that (apparent) FACT?!

i know, i know. we’re ALL THE SAME! heaven forbid someone points out any differences between people. ’cause then it will be TEOTWAWKI!!!!

(*roll eyes*)

(note: comments do not require an email.)

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25 Comments

  1. @rs – well, i’m on the defensive (offensive?) and taking up my position here on my moral high ground (’cause i’m a chick, dontchaknow) in response to your statement that you find my lack of offense to be insensitive and offensive! (~_^)

    Reply

  2. I still don’t get it. I understand that even factual reporting is not OK anymore if these facts would imply (even if it’s very indirectly) the superiority of one race/gender over another, etc… But in this case he is just stating a difference, and as you said he is simply reporting on other peer-reviewed research.

    It’s really mind-boggling. And what about all this talk about intimidation towards women? Are they really making this up? One should ask these people “can you point to the sentence(s) that you consider to be intimidating towards women, and explain (logically if possible) what is actually intimidating or demeaning towards women?”

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  3. We live in a profoundly superstitious, anti-scientific and irrational age. Worse than the Dark Ages, because we have no excuse.

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  4. Fascinating stuff.

    “The benefits of semen contact also were seen in (snip) better performance on cognition tests.”

    I see a pre-exam business opportunity.

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  5. I don’t think the ovulation synchrony thing is really the bee in their bonnet. It’s the suggestion that straight girls are (or can be) 0.00001 sigma happier or whatever on account of these beguiling chemical species. As Nietzsche and La Rouchefoucauld always say, the happy and the well made are hated and attacked eternally, even in cases where their traits don’t actually set them in power over others, or where they do get such power but use it justly. Only noble hearted specimens fail to hate the fortunate gratuitously when placed in a humble position.

    I don’t think serotonin can cross the blood-brain barrier, though, so he may have flubbed it on that one.

    But this little lynching isn’t going to get very far, I would think. Too auto-satirical.

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  6. Which of the attempted lynchings was as hard core as this one?

    The war within the American Anthropological Association probably started in 1994, with a shouting match between Professor Chagnon and Professor Terry Turner, of Cornell University, who called him “a sociopath” at a meeting arranged to reconcile Chagnon with the Salesian missionaries. It’s difficult to be more precise, because Chagnon and Turner had been enemies for years before then. But their equivalent of a murderous axe blow came this summer [2000ish], with the release of an email, signed by Turner, and Professor Les Sponsel, of Hawaii University, in which they accused Chagnon of participation in “crimes beyond the imagination of Joseph Conrad, though not, perhaps, of Josef Mengele.” In particular, he was supposed to have taken part in an experiment which started a deadly measles experiment among the Yanomamö in 1968, killing thousands and refusing medical treatment to those they had infected with a vaccine known to be potentially lethal. Both Turner and Sponsel are full professors, who have held high office in the AAA

    […]

    What is truly extraordinary about the story is that the charges set out in Turner and Sponsel’s email, are not only untrue; they could not possibly not be true, as reports of a full and thorough scientific investigation made plain in front of an enthralled crowd of four or five thousand anthropologists crammed into a ballroom at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco last month — yet despite this, a sizeable minority of the profession clearly wish that one of their colleagues was guilty of genocide, and feel his moral guilt is established whatever the scientific and historical facts may be.

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  7. I am a guy, so I don’t know every reason why women would be offended by it. But I am offended by it.

    What offends me most is that a medical authority is suggesting that women would be better off if they had unprotected sex with men and especially that a this might be something to treat depression.

    Depression is a serious and life threatening disorder that needs to be treated with means known to be effective. Unprotected sex is not a known effective means to prevent depression. Unprotected sex has a number of down sides which need to be weighed very carefully by women and their partners. Trying to treat depression should not be one of them.

    I have read the actual study and I think it was poorly done and I don’t find it compelling. The flaws in the actual study are pretty serious.

    The “data” they used was incomplete. They asked women if they had attempted suicide and then correlated that with use of condoms or not or being sexually active or not. There was no data presented as to the timing of suicide attempts and sexual activity. Since sexual trauma is an extremely common factor among women who are depressed and who attempt suicide, perhaps they should have asked questions about sexual trauma history. Being a victim of sexual trauma could explain the sexual practices, and the depression with no need to bring in magical properties of semen.

    If this article had not been about the magical properties of semen, he would never have considered mentioning it. It was mentioned because it had sexual content that could easily make women uncomfortable. In a work-type situation it would have constituted sexual harassment. As the president of a medical association, every member is in a “work-type” relationship with this guy. He should not have created a hostile work environment (which this did by putting this stuff in a journal that his subordinates are supposed to read).

    Bringing up a poorly done study in a professional setting to make your co-workers uncomfortable is unacceptable.

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  8. @daedalus2

    science: it’s either true or it’s not. the end.

    anything else means accepting people like you as a new inquisition.

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  9. His editorial wasn’t about science.

    The paper on unprotected sex left out extremely important confounding factors making it poor and inconclusive.

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means” ;)

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  10. My impression before reading the study itself (i.e. after reading this post and its comments) was well summed up in the study itself:

    It is important to acknowledge that these data are preliminary
    and correlational in nature, and as such are only
    suggestive.

    So, while daedalus2u is correct in that there are multiple potential confounding factors in the study, the study was preliminary and was meant as a starting point for future research, not as definitive proof that semen is a magical treatment for depression. Furthermore, I’m a bit incredulous to his claim that sexual trauma is the underlying explanatory factor here, as the chain of causality is a bit tenuous (i.e. we would have to believe that sexual trauma causes increased condom use, a result that I would find just as surprising as the results of the study under discussion). Essentially, his hypothesis would need to be studied before it became a more likely explanation than an antidepressant effect from hormones absorbed from semen.

    Now, reading the editorial and the response to it, I must say that I myself am confused at the scale of the response. I don’t know what the standards are for editorials in that particular journal, but given the tone of the response, it seems like an ideological hack-job rather than a dispassionate analysis. If the editorial violated the standards laid forth ahead of time by the journal, then actions proportionate to the offense should be taken. As a member of the general public, it’s a bit hard for me to assess that process, but it certainly does seem that political rather than scientific process motivations underly the reaction.

    To look at the response of daedalus2u (who I doubt is in any way involved with this particular news story):

    f this article had not been about the magical properties of semen, he would never have considered mentioning it. It was mentioned because it had sexual content that could easily make women uncomfortable. In a work-type situation it would have constituted sexual harassment. As the president of a medical association, every member is in a “work-type” relationship with this guy. He should not have created a hostile work environment (which this did by putting this stuff in a journal that his subordinates are supposed to read).

    This seems to be absurd rationale. Our commenter posits not only did this have the potential to make women uncomfortable, but that such was the primary motivation of the author!

    Furthermore, if we applied the standards advocated by this commenter to the medical profession, it seems that a significant portion of medical discussion related to reproductive issues would be off-limits. While the censorship of such information would perhaps lead to less offense to the sensibilities of some, it would have the effect of reducing the quality of discourse with regard to reproductive issues.

    Generally, I think that the most interesting commentary that can be made is how different the response to the inclusion of the semen study in the editorial was to the study of the mating habits of flies. It seems to me that science can be conducted unfettered by the popular ideologies of the academy, so long as the subjects of study are non-human. A study suggesting that maltose intake and the microbiomes of humans affected their mating behavior would have had a much greater impact than the one actually done, which concerned flies.

    Of course, since microbiologists, armed with cheap sequencing technology, have started to take a closer look at the human microbiome, who knows? We may see interesting political earthquakes in the field of microbiology before long.

    Reply

  11. If you look at this paper

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2894717/?tool=pubmed

    There is a very clear association between sexual abuse and depression and suicide attempts with an odds ratio of 4.14.

    Abuse is also associated with female sexual dysfunction.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2583323/?tool=pubmed

    “Of the six FSD domains (desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and pain), the pain and satisfaction domains were most closely associated with abuse histories.”

    If you look at this paper

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448448/

    Condom use among women with pelvic pain is associated with reduced pelvic pain.

    In this paper there is a very clear association of chronic pelvic pain with prior sexual abuse, odds ration ~3.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19654389

    Presumably women who have pelvic pain would tend to use condoms when condoms reduce that pain.

    So the idea that women who were sexually abused would have more suicide attempts and would have greater use of condoms during sex is pretty well supported in the literature. I think there is greater support for a sexual abuse explanation than there is for a magic antidepressant in semen explanation.

    If a random pseudonymous person on the internet can find this stuff in less than a day a medical professional writing about it should have had a few clues about it.

    Women who have been victims of sexual abuse and who are trying to mitigate those effects as best they can, don’t need someone to mansplain them about what they need is more sex without condoms.

    Actually I am very aware of the microbiome work. Unfortunately current researchers are mostly focusing on the gut and haven’t yet looked at non-heterotrophic bacteria on the skin in the rural undeveloped world. When they do, they will find these:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=a3mwmXzpsjkC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA103#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Reply

  12. daedalus2u

    “His editorial wasn’t about science.”

    grrr, koff, fair point, koff, grr

    Reply

  13. I understand that even factual reporting is not OK anymore if these facts would imply (even if it’s very indirectly) the superiority of one race/gender over another, etc… But in this case he is just stating a difference

    It’s “herterosexist”, you see.  Even if true, it’s evil:  a “hate fact”.

    As Nietzsche and La Rouchefoucauld always say, the happy and the well made are hated and attacked eternally

    “Oderint, dum metuant” comes to mind.

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  14. So the idea that women who were sexually abused would have more suicide attempts and would have greater use of condoms during sex is pretty well supported in the literature. I think there is greater support for a sexual abuse explanation than there is for a magic antidepressant in semen explanation.

    While the evidence you presented is convincing with regard to the fact that the preliminary study used should not be used to advocate unprotected sex (which the article did do in jest), it’s not a credit to your fair-mindedness that you continue to call the hypothesis a “magic antidepressant in semen explaination”. The authors were quite clear that they were positing hormonal effects and while such a hypothesis may not pan out, hormones aren’t “magic” and they do have real mood effects. Clearly, before any conclusions are drawn here there need to be studies that control for these factors, and even then I’d hold the conclusions suspect since there are other confounding factors beyond hormones and abuse.

    Women who have been victims of sexual abuse and who are trying to mitigate those effects as best they can, don’t need someone to mansplain them about what they need is more sex without condoms.

    “Mansplain”? Honestly, it’s hard to take your commentary seriously when you drop obvious ideological slang and attribute negative motives to the object of your critique rather than dealing with the issue at face value.

    I will concede to you that the study was misused and that the article probably should not have been published. However, I think your reaction to it is emblematic of the type of overreaction that was problematic in the first place.

    A surgeon didn’t to the full due diligence on the paper he cited in an op-ed. The paper does present an interesting hypothesis and the results at least merit further investigation and if the surgeon, like me, was ignorant of other research on the topic, it’s easy to see how he would have overlooked the type of studies you presented. I don’t think that he published out of malice, and I certainly don’t think that he was telling abused women what to do (those are motives that you imputed, presumably based upon your own viewpoints, not the viewpoints of the original author).

    Outrage over invented motives is one of the easiest ways to shut down debate and I am really not fond of mixing political and ideological activism with analysis of the handling of science. While the motivation to find errors that ideology imparts can at times be positive, it causes its holders to overreach and attempt to squelch debate rather than inform it.

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  15. I agree with you that outrage over invented motives is one of the easiest ways to shut down debate.

    The amount of privilege that the non-abused have is truly staggering to me, someone who has lived with PSTD my whole life.

    The problem with privilege is that those who have it can’t even appreciate that they have it. Standing up to those with privilege can be extremely difficult for people who have been victims of abuse.

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  16. I was not aware that I was having a “debate” with the author of either the piece on semen being an antidepressant or the surgeon who wrote about it.

    My use of the term “mansplain” was limited to those who would tell women who have been victims of sexual abuse to have unprotected sex to mitigate their injury. If you include yourself among those who would tell women to have unprotected sex to mitigate the after effects of sexual abuse, then yes, the label “mansplain” is directed at you, and yes it fits.

    If you are someone who would tell a woman to use unprotected sex to mitigate feelings of depression without knowing if she has been a victim of sexual abuse, then the label “mansplain” fits too.

    I don’t think the surgeon published it out of malice, but out of privilege. I don’t think he has a clue how much privilege he has. I hope he has gotten a clue and can better appreciate the role that privilege played in what he did.

    I am not putting up these comments to try and whack anyone, but rather to educate them. It is not the victims of abuse that need educating, it is those who are unable to appreciate what abuse can do to victims who need educating. I hope they can get that education without being abused themselves.

    I don’t think you appreciate how difficult it can be for victims of abuse to interact with people who are insensitive to what they have been through. Most victims really do need to hide their victim status because many bullies see victim-type behaviors as a “kick-me” sign. Many victims and bullies come to blame the victims for being abused. This blame has no basis in fact, it is a psychological technique that mitigates some of the damage of that abuse. Victims feel less damaged and bullies feel as if they did less damage and are not so evil as they actually are. I do appreciate this, which is why I feel compelled to adopt the tone that I do because victims of abuse really are not to blame for being abused.

    If you can’t take my comments seriously, then don’t. That you can’t understand what I am saying is about your ability to understand, and not about how I am saying it. I appreciate that you may not like my “tone” or my “ideology”. If my “tone” interferes with your ability to understand, whose problem is that exactly? That you need me to have a specific tone before you can understand something tells me you don’t have the capacity to understand it and likely never will. What my “tone” says is that I know exactly where my “ideology” comes from. I have a great deal of facts and logic that I know are correct to back it up. If you want to have a “debate”, you need to bring more to it than your offended sensibilities.

    I was using the term “magic” to ridicule the paper. They didn’t actually measure any constituents of semen or assay them for antidepressant activity. If there were actual antidepressant compounds in semen that actually worked, it would be a pretty good pharmacological target. It is natural, effective over a broad dose range, seems to be pretty specific, and with no toxicity or over dose issues. Why are there no antidepressants on the market derived from semen? Antidepressants are a gigantic money maker for pharmaceutical companies. If “hormones” or similar compounds in semen were effective, they would very likely already be in use as antidepressant drugs or drug candidates.

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  17. I was using the term “magic” to ridicule the paper. They didn’t actually measure any constituents of semen or assay them for antidepressant activity.

    Proving that you don’t understand what epidemiological evidence and tentative hypotheses are.

    Inventing motives over which to berate people (when all they’ve done is question elements of the reigning political ideology of the left) is one of the slimiest and most dishonest things I’ve ever seen.

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  18. But that isn’t what the original authors have done. Objecting to trying to redefine/reframe depression in women as a “lack of vaginal exposure to semen” does not “[prove] that [I] don’t understand what epidemiological evidence and tentative hypotheses are.”

    None of them questioned any “elements of the reigning political ideology of the left”, unless you mean the ideology of the reality based community that scientific papers and discourse about such things should actually correspond with reality?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality_based_community

    If you are a scientist and do shoddy work, expect to be called on it. Whether the shoddyness is due to ideology or error is irrelevant to the scientific community. In the original work I think the shoddyness was due to error and a limited understanding of the consequences of sexual abuse.

    I think the shoddyness of what the surgeon wrote was due to his male privilege. I think he regretted it, and that was why he retracted it and took the other actions that he did. I think he now better appreciates the degree of male privilege that he had.

    I think many of the comments, by those who can’t see the real issues with what he wrote are not able to understand how their ideology of privilege is clouding their ability to perceive reality. That is the problem with privilege, those who have it arbitrarily privilege their own beliefs over everything else, including reality. If you let your privilege interfere with your scientific judgment, then you can’t help but do shoddy work. If you want to be a good scientist, you have to leave your privilege behind.

    It isn’t a ideology of the left to not allow privilege to interfere with scientific judgment, it is the essence of being a scientist. It is Feynman’s first principle of science: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    All hypotheses are tentative. It is the people proposing them who should be their harshest critics. When people don’t look at their own hypotheses critically, then they also tend to do shoddy work. When shoddy work advances the reigning ideologies of the far right, it is not leftist to object to that shoddy work. Neither is it rightist to object to shoddy work that advances ideology of the left.

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  19. My use of the term “mansplain” was limited to those who would tell women who have been victims of sexual abuse to have unprotected sex to mitigate their injury. If you include yourself among those who would tell women to have unprotected sex to mitigate the after effects of sexual abuse, then yes, the label “mansplain” is directed at you, and yes it fits.

    It didn’t fit for the article in question and turning this on me when I didn’t even advocate what he said is a pretty despicable debating tactic. It does not fit because it was you who introduced abused women to the discussion. It wasn’t on the table in the editorial. Furthermore, while the joke in the article was tasteless, it did not amount to advocating unprotected sex as . If you cannot make an elementary distinction between what your opponent says and what you want them to have said, then there is no way that you can claim to be part of the “reality based community”, because as you have shown in your past few comments is that you are part of the “ideologically-based wishful thinking community”.

    No one has advocated that abused women seek out unprotected sex and that includes the editorial in question. If you can find such advocacy, feel free to share it.

    It isn’t a ideology of the left to not allow privilege to interfere with scientific judgment, it is the essence of being a scientist. It is Feynman’s first principle of science: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    It is an ideology of the left that privilege is what is the issue here. Instead of simply pointing out flaws in the study and in the editorial (which you have done and which I have accepted), you have gone on to attack the person who wrote the editorials with ad hominem arguments crouched in the language of “privilege” and you’ve been on the verge of doing so with your interlocutors in this thread. Honestly, I don’t think that much more productive can be gained from this thread, so I’m going to resign from this particular issue.

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  20. None of them questioned any “elements of the reigning political ideology of the left”

    Are you for real?  It directly challenged the idea that lesbian relationships are every bit as good as heterosexual relationships.  It also supports the Roman Catholic claim that condoms aren’t good for you.  (Condoms are a lot better than AIDS or even chlamydia, but ideologues on any side tend not to admit nuance.)

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  21. I bet all this bologna has something to do with the male domination of surgery, from time immemorial – it’s as asymmetric as physics. Women on average are superior to men in General Practice, if you ask me, which is obviously a very prestigious business to be in – but not compared to surgery, cardiology, etc, where self-confessed god-men lord it over GPdom.

    So, oh my god… if men are actually better at surgery (AND they carry the soul-elating semen!!! – which is not exactly fair either) we’ll have to, – why… it’s too terrible to endure, we’ll just have to commit national suicide! Committed leftists first, an honor for them… It’s like that filicidal matron in the Führerbunker, thundering with Russkie shells – aaa, ohne Nationalsozialismus haben meine Kinder nichts, darum zu leeeeeeeeeeebeeeeee!!!!! – there’s nothing! Finito!

    The end!

    Unless – unless – there were a new theodicy, direct from the voice of God, etc etc. Oh, mysterious Heaven – gratuitous bounty! Show us where the sin lies!!!!! The terrible OPPRESSION, right? BUT – So the plan is to work up this basso profundo of timpani… a nice impasto of hysterical blather… and chuck ol’ Doc Lazar right in the red hot lava! The Gods demand a sacrifice!

    Or, at worst, it can at least slake some resentment.

    Heaven above! Illuminate THE CRIMES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I demand 99,999 years of fiery purgatory! With extra sensitivity training! Bake us in the iron bull, level our cities with the earth! etc

    Reply

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