Shoe, meet other foot

When I was pregnant, my British GP assured me that if GPs hadn’t noticed a problem with eating or drinking something, it probably didn’t exist. In comparison, biological pre-moms these days do have a lot to worry about. But what about dad’s? Well, I haven’t noticed much, but it seems to be starting. According to an article from Everyday Health, an online article from Occupational and Environmental Medicine (published by the prestigious JAMA), the following jobs are possibly sources of  so-called “birth defects”  in men’s offspring:

Mathematical, physical and computer scientists


Office and administrative support workers

Food service staff

Motor vehicle operators

And a lot more!

By the way, if you have any tendency to OCD or hypochondia, you might think of not even looking at the occupational and environmental medicine publication.

“Neuroscience and the public sphere”

A recent article in Neuron, with the title above, addresses a very important phenomenon: Investigations in neuroscience get absorbed into contexts that are ‘symbolically layered and socially loaded‘. As the article says:

Since the “Decade of the Brain,” the field of neuroscience has expanded dramatically, tackling increasingly complex topics with profound social and policy implications … Neuroscience is now firmly rooted as a basic reference point within the public sphere, drawn into discussion of diverse issues such as antisocial behavior, economic decisions, substance abuse, and education.

However, scientific information is rarely transplanted intact into the public domain. As science penetrates the public sphere, it enters a dense network of cultural meanings and worldviews and is understood through the prism they provide. The cultural context determines which aspects of science travel into public consciousness: knowledge that resonates with prevailing social concerns is selectively “taken up” in public dialogue. For example, the “Mozart effect”—the empirically unsubstantiated idea that classical music enhances children’s intelligence … Furthermore, scientific information acquires new meanings as cultural preconceptions are projected onto it. For instance, Green and Clémence, 2008 demonstrate how over the course of public communication, a study linking vasopressin to affiliative behavior in voles (Young et al., 1999) was reconstituted as a discovery of the “faithfulness gene.” These lay ideas (or “social representations”) of science can have tangible societal consequences.

The article contains an extremely helpful bibliography for anyone wanting to look at the issues in this domain; it appears fairly innocent of feminist analysis, unfortunately. We have in a number of posts discussed some of the work by Cordelia Fine, who works in this area.

Mistreating cancer patients: how about not making us sicker?

I asked a friend who specializes in medical history what it is about cancer patients, and the way they get attacked psychologically. She says there is a huge stigma about lung cancer, but she didn’t think it was true for other forms. So that leaves us without an answer to the question, How can anyone think it is a good idea to deal someone a blow at as they are goiing through treatment for cancer? And, believe me, they do all too often.

There are pretty bad figures about the national complaints, but there is also tons of anecdotal evidence that I’ve heard at my cancer center. Maybe part of it is that a lot of cancers occur when people might want to get rid of you and put a younger person in your place. But whatever it is, research is now making it completely clear: Stress can affect ways in which cancer cells grow and spread.

One of the US’s main cancer center just sent around the following:

there is growing scientific evidence that considerable psychological distress can affect the immune system, cancer specific biological pathways, and treatment recovery.

Some kinds of cancer love to spread; in fact, that’s often what makes them lethal. And they can create their own pathways. Stress can help them get the needed ingredients. It really can shorten lives and do so in very awful ways. Metatasis to the brain can lead to WBR, or whole brain radiation. There’s no way that’s something you want to do unless your life is at stake. You really, really don’t want to worry of you helped cause that because of your hostile behavior, however self-righteous you may have felt at the time. So concentrate on healthier people, OK? Not some experiencing an awful and still fundamentally mysterious disease.

Meat-Eating and Male Critics

As many of you know, the Sunday Times has had a contest to write the best essay defending meet eating. It came to a conclusion this weekend, and the winners are announced.

We mentioned before its all-male panel of judges. And in fact the ethicist recognizes concerns about diversity, in a rather odd context:

Reader Responses

The contest is sexist and racist

The panel [of judges] consists of all white men. . . . And so the cycle of prejudice continues in which white male elite perspectives dominate the production of social facts. LORI GRUEN, A. BREEZE HARPER, CAROL J. ADAMS

The contest is harmless

This is a panel of five, for heaven’s sake, for a meaningless contest. How diverse can it be? Why should anyone care how diverse it is? ETHICSALARMS.COM

So we decided to go to the Gruen, Harper and Adams piece to see why they thought diversity would be an improvement.

One fact is that one is starting out from a biased position with all-men panel, since our culture identifies men with meat-eating. Secondly, A group of white western men are going to bring partial and fairly shared perspective to what is in fact a global problem. Third, when one picks for fame – as the ethicist said she was doing – one tend to create a circle which the men close.

Interesting reasons, hardly meant to be inclusiveexhaustive (thanks, SH). What do you think?

Is homophobia a result of suppressed homosexuality?

A NY Times article suggests it sometimes may be. One major advantage with the article is that it is written by the researchers, RM Ryan and WS Ryan, who did the experiments. Still, for me, more than anything else, the article raises the question of what the Freudian theory of suppression was supposed to be. I’ll say why that seems important at the end.

The research described does seem to produce good empirical evidence that there are people who strongly explicitly identify themselves as straight, but who nonetheless have homosexual feelings. Further, these people were significantly more likely than others in the study to express homophobic tendencies and attitudes.

The problem, however, comes with the interpretation. The problems may arise because scientists can, like journalists, put their findings in terms that the ordinary NY Times reader will understand even if it is misleading. Or my criticisms may be wrong. Or something else could be going on; for example, they may not have meant “suppression” to be Freudian suppression.

Here is their interpretation:

One theory is that homosexual urges, when repressed out of shame or fear, can be expressed as homophobia. Freud famously called this process a “reaction formation” — the angry battle against the outward symbol of feelings that are inwardly being stifled…

It’s a compelling theory — and now there is scientific reason to believe it. In this month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we and our fellow researchers provide empirical evidence that homophobia can result, at least in part, from the suppression of same-sex desire.

They relate take their research to be relevant to recent conservative public opponents of gay rights:

In recent years, Ted Haggard, an evangelical leader who preached that homosexuality was a sin, resigned after a scandal involving a former male prostitute; Larry Craig, a United States senator who opposed including sexual orientation in hate-crime legislation, was arrested on suspicion of lewd conduct in a men’s bathroom; and Glenn Murphy Jr., a leader of the Young Republican National Convention and an opponent of same-sex marriage, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after being accused of sexually assaulting another man…
Even Mr. Haggard seemed to endorse this idea [of suppression causing anti-gay attitudes] when, apologizing after his scandal for his anti-gay rhetoric, he said, “I think I was partially so vehement because of my own war.”

So here is the problem: suppression is supposed to be about keeping something out of consciousness. For Freud, something suppressed is difficult to get into consciousness. However, someone who has a war going on inside himself hardly seems to have failed to get it into consciousness. Ditto for people who are acting on desires. They may not like the desires and want them to go away, but it is hard to believe that someone pressuring someone else to have sex is really unconscious of his desires, however reluctant he may be to name them at other points.

One way of defusing this objection would be to say to say that RM Ryan and WS Ryan did not mean “suppression” as Freud did, but rather meant it as, say, failed dieters mean it when they talk about suppressing a desire for ice cream. You try not to think about it, and often succeed, but then the phone call with bad news comes and you go out for ice cream. However, that does not seem to be what the researchers think they can show.

The researchers take the fact that people can explicitly identify as straight on questionnaires and then are revealed on implicit association tests to have gay reactions to show that they are unaware of their gay reactions. But it doesn’t really seem to do that. That’s because people who are aware that they feel one way can simply not tell the truth when they are asked explicitly. I don’t know how many racist or sexist people would hide their attitudes when questioned explicitly, but I’d bet a lot “know better” than to admit how they actually feel.

Why worry about this? Well, at least in the United States a lot of people are advocating as morally required practices that would be very difficult and even very harmful for others to follow. And we do discover that these pure people sometimes do not practice what they preach. What fuels this kind of dangerous hypocrisy? Should we see it as a deep psychological problem out of their control? Or is it really something we should see as a terrible moral failing? Or perhaps the failing is that conceptions of morality have so often become so seriously divorced from ideas of loving and cherishing, and much more attached to fear, shame and punishment.

In fact, the article provides some evidence for the last hypothesis:

We found that participants who reported having supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation and less susceptible to homophobia. Individuals whose sexual identity was at odds with their implicit sexual attraction were much more frequently raised by parents perceived to be controlling, less accepting and more prejudiced against homosexuals.

What do you think?

Puberty before 10?

The NYTimes has an interesting and lengthy article about little girls who are getting some secondary sexual characteristics – including pubic hair and developing breasts – very early.  They are also doing some follow up on the topic with a 3 pm EST discussion on the Time’s facebook page today.

For me the two most important claims made were:

1.  If you use this as an opportunity to engage your family with the problems located in your daughter’s body, you may well do very lasting damage.  As it is, someone out of step with her peers’ development has enough problems to worry about.

2.  What is going on in many cases may not actually involve a genuine puberty.  In fact, the age for starting menstruation is remaining fairly much the same.  One hypothesis is that it is environmental estrogens that are causing the development of second sexual characteristics.

Apparently, genuine puberty requires brain changes that trigger a lot of different responses, and in many early development cases that does not seem to have happened.  This fact is fortunate, since a genuine early puberty can have serious consequences for skeleton growth and development.

BPA has been a concern for some years, since it is mildly estrogenic.  However, on Friday, March 30, the US’s Food and Drug Administration  refused to ban the use of BPA in food containers since it said the scientific evidence for the ban is insufficient.  It is doing further testing on the issue.

IJFAB’s current CFP, extended to April 1

If you’re sitting on a nigh-done draft of something of interest to feminist bioethicists:

Please consider submitting for IJFAB Open Issue 6.1, deadline extended!

Vol 6, No. 1: Open Issue

The deadline for submission for this issue is April 1, 2012.

Vol. 6, No. 1 is an open issue. We welcome submissions on all topics in feminist bioethics

  • Articles should not exceed 8,000 words (roughly 32 manuscript pages). Shorter articles are welcome. Additional instructions for authors are available in the style guidelines.
  • Conversations provides a forum for public dialogue on particular issues in bioethics. Scholars engaged in fruitful exchanges are encouraged to share those discussions here. Submissions for this section should be limited to 3000 words.
  • Commentaries offers an opportunity for short analyses (under 2000 words) of specific policy issues, legislation, court decisions, or other contemporary developments within bioethics.
  • Book reviews are typically solicited; however, we strongly encourage authors to submit their books to the Book Review Editor for consideration for review. We also invite proposals for review essays that survey several texts in a particular field. Books and inquiries should be directed to the Book Review Editor: Chris La Barbara, Department of Humanities, Colby-Sawyer College, 541 Main Street, New London, NH 03257,

Reposted from SWIPlist.

The Sunday cat understands lions can be lovers

They could eat you up!

What is going on? According to the Daily Record:

Scots bank worker Douglas Hamilton has become an internet sensation after posting footage online of his encounters with lion cubs on a wildlife park in South Africa.
Fans all over the world have watched the film ….
American singer Taylor loved Douglas’s short movie so much that she watched it three times in one week.
And after she raved about the footage during an interview, thousands more people have logged on to see it.
Taylor said: “It makes me so happy.
“It’s got these five or six lion cubs and they jump up on the lion trainer and start hugging him. They love him so much.”
Douglas, from Glasgow’s south side, worked with the wild cubs for two months at the Port Elizabeth Seaview Lion Park.
The 27-year-old, who is now with Barclays bank, said “Nothing happened when I first posted the film.
“But all of a sudden, it had 30,000 hits and that jumped to 70,000 and beyond. Then someone told me that Taylor Swift had started talking about it.”
Douglas said of his experience with the lions: “It was unbelievable. The animals roam free and your cabin is twenty feet away.”

Three times in one week! Omigod, maybe academics do tend to have ocd!

True Colors

Pink ribbon turns brown:

Komen breast cancer charity severs ties with Planned Parenthood

Susan G. Komen for the Cure says it will stop funding Planned Parenthood centers. Many suspect the move is a result of political pressure by antiabortion activists.

 It may be a bit more complicated.  The foundation may have recently added a very silly stipulation; namely, that it won’t support anything under government investigation.  The question, then, turns back to why they made their funding so susceptible to governmental whims:

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a leader in fundraising for breast cancer research and famous worldwide for its iconic pink ribbon, said Tuesday that it was halting all partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates because of recently adopted criteria that forbid it from funding any organization under government investigation.

In September, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) launched an inquiry to determine whether Planned Parenthood uses public money to fund abortions. Planned Parenthood receives federal money but cannot use it to provide abortions.


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.