Good news

KAMPALA, Uganda — Uganda’s parliament appeared Wednesday to have dropped plans to debate a controversial bill that once proposed the death penalty for some gays and lesbians following an outcry from U.S. leaders and rights groups.

For more, go here.

M.E. Awareness Week

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis – also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome – is a chronic and debilitating condition, which affects its sufferers in a range of different ways, causing extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, digestive problems, heart failure, pain, and sometimes death. Most of those affected can no longer work, although some can still manage a part-time job. Some people with the condition are affected severely and become bedbound for years, unable to wash themselves or go to the toilet unassisted. Doctors have little idea what causes it, and there is currently no cure, although some people do recover. Despite an increase in awareness of the condition, it can still take a long time to receive a diagnosis, and despite its severity, M.E is not always taken seriously by medical professionals. The problems are compounded by a lack of research into the condition. You can read more on the M.E. Research UK website. The Action for M.E. webpage has suggestions for things you can do to help. Finally, for an insight into what it is like to live with severe M.E., and how you may be treated by some members of the medical profession, have a look at this site.

Breastfeeding and fussiness

Breastfed babies are 30 per cent less likely to develop behavioural problems, according to the latest evidence that breast really is best.

To assess the effects of breastfeeding on behaviour, Maria Quigley at the University of Oxford and her colleagues collected data from more than 10,000 mothers in the UK.

When their infants were around 9 months old, each mother was asked whether she breastfed her baby and for how long. When the children reached the age of 5, their behaviour was assessed using a questionnaire completed by the mother.

This so-called Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is used to identify behavioural problems including anxiety, clinginess, restlessness, lying and stealing in youngsters. The team also noted the mothers’ socioeconomic status, education, smoking and relationship status, as these are all thought to influence offspring behaviour.

After accounting for these factors, the group found that babies exclusively breastfed for at least four months were 30 per cent less likely to exhibit a range of social and behavioural problems or score abnormally high on the SDQ.

As others have noted, this at best assesses what mothers who breastfeed *think* about their children’s behaviour, and that’s important. Also, it neglects the possibility that something else– like having a lifestyle conducive to breastfeeding– could be the common cause of breastfeeding and less fussy children (assuming they actually are less fussy, rather than just being perceived that way).

Interestingly, even the experimenters seem to think it’s likely not to actually be the breastmilk itself but the attachment that results from all the time feeding. If that’s right, then (a) one should emphasise that there are other ways to form said attachment (involving fathers, bottles or both); and (b) the US model– little if any maternity leave, but lots of pressure to pump– isn’t going to bring the benefit.

(Thanks, S and L!)

Link here.

It’s official: it’s not OK to poll your students on what grade to give fellow student who gives birth

In case you were wondering.

When the story first surfaced in January, it struck some as so unlikely that they questioned its veracity. Many women in science, however, said that the story rang true to them. Maybe they hadn’t experienced exactly the same thing, but they said they had seen plenty of senior male faculty members who were clueless at best and discriminatory at worst about responding to students or faculty members who become mothers.

The story was that a department chair in the veterinary school at the University of California at Davis had polled a class on what grade he should give to a student who had to miss some quizzes because she had given birth. On Monday afternoon, the university released a statement from Edward Feldman, chair of the medicine and epidemiology department, in which he apologized for the incident in his class, and said that he was complying with the university’s request to step down as chair.

We reported on this story earlier here.

I’m glad he’s apologising and stepping down, but is it really an adequate *punishment* to relieve someone of the endless admin duties of chairing a department?

Thanks, J!

Homeless woman “steals education” for her son

Tanya McDowell is homeless, but wanted to enroll her son in kindergarten. (The nerve!) Now she’s being charged with “stealing education” for him, because in order to enroll him she claimed an address that she didn’t have (because, being homeless, she had no address). For more, go here. To sign a petition in support of her, go here.

(Thanks, Synaesthetik!)