Constructing the Myth of the Crack Baby

Ta Nehisi Coates has a short blurb about about the crack baby ‘epidemic’ in the early 1980s in the US.  You can also watch a ten minute video / short documentary about it here.

a pregnant woman with one hand resting on her belly.

Coates mentions the influence of racism in how women were being prosecuted for being pregnant while addicted to cocaine. In fact, there’s a whole confluence of racism, classism, misogyny, and ableism that feed into the crack baby hysteria:
–the racism and classism that goes into poor WoC being more easily seen as irresponsible mothers who were recklessly endangering their unborn children
–the general misogyny that a woman’s health (like helping her with her addiction) is not nearly as important as the health of the her unborn child (so she should be prosecuted for potentially harming it.)
–the ableism that influence our standards of health.  Part of the hysteria was that babies would be born with physical and cognitive disabilities, which not only lead us to think of them as not being fully human, but we were then also concerned about all the extra money they disabled kids would cost us.  Because you know, the *tragedy* here is not that there are a bunch of women addicted to a dangerous drug, but that people’s taxes will go up from from all these costly, disabled babies.

Eek, it’s like a messed-up game of “spot how the -ism influences our moral concerns.”

Catholic Hospital Argues Fetuses Are Not Persons

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against St. Thomas More Hospital in Colorado. Lori Stodghill, who was pregnant with twins, died from a heart-attack shortly after she had been admitted. Her husband filed a suit in which his lawyers argue that a cesarean-section could have saved the twins, and so ought to have been performed.

Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

You can read more here.

a cautionary word about weight loss and pills

A few weeks ago I did a poll on whether one would want the side effects of a pill that causes weight loss. And in another post I mentioned falling. Oddly enough, the two were connected.

According to web lore, one of the generics of Wellbutrin has not been certified by the CDC or whatever as the same as the brand. And the uncertified one can cause really unpleasant side effects in a very, very small part of the population, anonymous people on the web maintain. Now, we are not talking a fall or two; I think I actually fell 7 times in about a week, mostly outdoors, and was prevented from falling 3 or so other times. This is actually very dangerous and I was worried.

Since no doctor or pill book seemed to know what might be going on, I decided to follow the web advice and switched back to the very expensive brand name. And I stopped falling.

Dizziness is listed as a possible side effect of Wellbutrin, but that is not what was happening. It felt as though some signal was not getting through, and in particular the ones that have one shift one’s center of balance when one’s carrying something, going up a step and so on. In fact, I think there might be some subtle counter-example to claims about knowledge without observation. That is, I suspect I could briefly access the signals consciously. But that’s not the point here!

And thanks to ChrisTS, who suggested that I try to find out what was happening! Her comment helped focus my attentions.

The “Perfect Woman”

Oh, how the times change.  Unsurprisingly, the perception of what the “perfect woman” looks like — and what a healthy weight is — has changed a lot since 1912 (though, I cannot figure out why Cornell was doing anything of this sort in the first place).

Cornell University’s medical examiner, Dr. Esther Parker, selected Scheel from a pool of 400 Cornell women. The New York Times described her as “a light-haired, blue-eyed girl whose very presence bespeaks perfect health,” and The Star, a Wilmington, Del. paper, reported that Scheel was 171 pounds, 5 ft. 7 in. tall and had similar proportions to the famous Greek statue, Venus de Milo.

The full story is over at Huffington Post.

Women still missing in (US) Medicine’s higher ranks

An article in the NY Times raises some interesting issues that women in philosophy might want to think about. First of all, tenure is less prevalent in medical schools. According to a Science blog:

The percentage of new faculty hired on the tenure track at U.S. academic medical centers and medical schools has been falling steadily for almost a quarter of a century, according to a report out this month from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Only a quarter of new clinical faculty hired in 2009 were on the tenure track, as opposed to 46 percent in 1984.

One figure has been virtually unchanged: The number of men in tenure track positions exceeded that of tenure-track women by eight percentage points in 1984 and in 2009. “Future research could assess the personal significance of tenure to women, as tenured positions may become more scarce for this subgroup of faculty,” the report’s authors write.

Nonetheless, women have dismal career prospects, if the figures of actual job distributions are predictors. And some of the reasons are familiar; the difference between men’s and women’s lives may have an impact independent of tenure. On the other hand, I do not remember seeing the sense of inclusion and confidence raised very much in philosophy discussions. There may be good reasons for this; linking poor career advancement to women’s self-confidence can easily turn into blaming the victim. From the NY Times:

This phenomenon is well documented. While women make up about half of all medical students and a third of academic faculty, they are nearly absent in the upper ranks. A recent review in The Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that only 4 percent of full professors are women. Only 12 percent of department chiefs are women. In the survey, men and women were engaged in their work to a similar degree, and both groups had comparable aspirations for leadership roles.

But over all, women did not feel the same sense of inclusion in the medical world as men did. They were not confident about their ability to be promoted, despite their interest in advancement. These findings do not come as a surprise to most women in medicine.

Is it that the medical world remains biased against women, despite the increasing number of women in the ranks? Or is it, as some have postulated, that the culture of the workplace — built around the needs of men for generations — simply remains that way? Despite trends toward more equitable distribution of family responsibilities and more child care services, women still shoulder more of the family burden. For most people, peak career-building years overlap with peak family-building years.

Still, there may be something to the lack of self-confidence and to the inability of some to imagine their getting to the top. So the idea of “possible selves” might be worth exploring. And, as you will see, finally implicit bias is given a place of importance:

There is also the idea of “possible selves.” If you see lots of women who are doctors, a teenager can imagine that for herself as a possible life. But if you never see any women leading a department, it’s much harder for a junior faculty member to envision that job as a possibility.

No one I’ve spoken to feels there is much deliberate bias in medicine these days. But the lingering unconscious bias involving the various waves of newcomers — women, members of racial and ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians — resonates for many.

ND lawsuit an affront to gender equity

More on the students’ opposition to Notre Dame’s lawsuit:

If the University can provide access to medications that treat erectile dysfunction without question, because it trusts that men will use it wisely, why not treat women likewise when it comes to contraceptives? The University’s policies do not treat men and women as equally capable and trustworthy moral agents, and the University is going to court to defend that disparity.

While it is not clear to us that compliance with the mandate would violate Catholic conscience, it is clear that gender inequity is wrong both legally and morally. ‘Dignitatis Humanae,’ the Vatican’s 1965 declaration of religious freedom, says: “[G]overnment is to see to it that equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common good, is never violated, whether openly or covertly, for religious reasons. Nor is there to be discrimination among citizens.”

Truly living out the University’s mission and Catholic identity requires creating more equitable University policies and a more family-friendly environment.

From here, and more here.

We seek a frank, open discussion about why complying with the mandate is contrary to its conscience, and why filing a lawsuit against the federal government is a suitable means of furthering the university’s moral mission.

Father’s age a factor in autism and schizophrenia

Or so new research in Nature and reported in the NY Times suggests. (The Nature discussion is very interesting, btw.)

The report seems to me to have political dimensions that can pull us in very different directions. On the one hand, it still seems to me amazing to see any questioning of the idea that it is only women who face a ticking reproductive clock. On the other hand, you know that the chances are very high that there is a lot of ablest thought that the research is going to inspire, and may well have been inspired by.

Let me add in that as a parent, the thought that one’s child might not be able to earn a living is utterly terrifying. Perhaps especially in the US, the fate of at least fairly markedly neuro-atypical adults can be very awful indeed.

Having said that, let me ask that if anyone has information on what people with markedly neuro-atypical children can do to plan a safe future for the child after they have died. Supposing, that is, that they don’t want to be academics. (JOKE!)

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.

Alarming health news

Studies about diet are always somewhat questionable, an article in the NYTimes says, when they rely on self-reports. Still, the possibility raised by a new report is just scary:

The latest study, published online in the journal Heart, was the largest and most detailed to date on calcium intake and disease, involving more than 24,000 people who were taking part in a large continuing analysis called the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition. The subjects, ages 35 to 64 at the start of the research, were followed for 11 years and questioned about things like their health, their food intake and their supplement use.

In an attempt to rule out or minimize the effects of other factors that contribute to heart disease and could complicate the results, the authors took into account age, physical activity, body mass index, diet, and alcohol and cigarette use …

But looking specifically at supplements presented a more alarming picture. People who got their calcium almost exclusively from supplements were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with those who took no supplements. The researchers speculated that taking calcium in supplement form causes blood levels of the mineral to quickly spike to harmful levels, whereas getting it from food may be less dangerous because the calcium is absorbed in smaller amounts at various points throughout the day.

This is round three on calcium supplements. We’ve also looked at round 1,“no, you almost certainly  don’t need extra calcium, ” and round 2, “yes, you probably do need extra calcium”.

We can’t ‘cure’ homosexuality; can we forgive the scientist who said we could?

In 2003, the highly regarded Dr. Robert L. Spitzer published what purported to be a study of the success of “conversion therapy” which said that it was possible to change one’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. This study is the foundation of a very great deal of anti-homosexual propaganda and programs. Nonetheless, it and its publication were deeply flawed. For one thing, such is Spitzer prestige, it was not peer reviewed by the journal. In addition, it relied on self-reports, some of which asked for data from the distant past, as one criticism said. Many experts in the field think it is worthless. And now so does Dr. Spitzer.

With descriptions that may seem designed to win sympathy for Spitzer, the NY Times reports:

Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, considered by some to be the father of modern psychiatry, lay awake at 4 o’clock on a recent morning knowing he had to do the one thing that comes least naturally to him.

He pushed himself up and staggered into the dark. His desk seemed impossibly far away; Dr. Spitzer, who turns 80 next week, suffers from Parkinson’s disease and has trouble walking, sitting, even holding his head upright.

The word he sometimes uses to describe these limitations — pathetic — is the same one that for decades he wielded like an ax to strike down dumb ideas, empty theorizing and junk studies.

Now here he was at his computer, ready to recant a study he had done himself, a poorly conceived 2003 investigation that supported the use of so-called reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality for people strongly motivated to change.

And certainly there are praise worthy facts here. Spitzer in fact is largely credited to getting homosexuality off the DSM’s list of mental disorders.** And not that many people are happy to confess to errors in public.

On the other hand, the supposed study has done a great deal of harm. Some of it is recounted in comments on the Times’ article. Here is one:

My mother died of Parkinson’s disease but I never got to see her in her waning years because she and my father cut me entirely out of their lives — because I’m gay. They refused me entry to their (formerly our) home. They wouldn’t respond to emails or take calls. All of this was after I “failed” reparative therapy — instead (in their minds) “choosing” a suicide watch in a mental hospital and “continuing” to be gay. They relied heavily upon this man’s “research” in their analysis, assessment, opinion and rejection of me.

I’m sorry to hear of this man’s illness. But his illness, and his apology, make his use of gay people as pawns in his game of professional status-seeking no less reprehensible. I, too, only have one regret — it’s this man’s “work” and contribution to my life. He made a very difficult road all but bitterly impossible.

No letter he ever writes will negates what he did.

A large number of the responders praise Spitzer’s recanting, and recommend he be forgiven for his study. That may be very facile. Should the people harmed, even demonized by those using the study forgive him. “It’s time to move on,” some people are saying. Unfortunately, there are things that one cannot simply move on from. The damage may be permanent, written on one’s mind and body in ways impossible to ignore. Ask victims of torture, among whom some commenters regard themselves. A successful life may be the best revenge, but the harm done may make success unfairly very much harder.

So how should we think about forgiveness in such cases? What do you think?

**A number of commenters on the article claim that the forthcoming DSM and psychiatry more generally is still very hostile to sexual differences.