Category Archives: Science

FGC at Cornell University

Cross posted

Careful – this may be TRIGGERING, and the links may be TRIGGERING.

Dr Dix P. Poppas of Cornell University Medical School has been performing genital surgery on little girls, and then doing follow-up work testing how much sensation the girls have (left). Here is the abstract for the article in which he reported the research: Journal of Urology: Nerve Sparing Ventral Clitoroplasty: Analysis of Clitoral Sensitivity and Viability: Volume 178, Issue 4, Supplement, Pages 1598-1601 (October 2007).

Here is the article on Bioethics Forum which reveals the story.

Bioethics Forum: Bad Vibrations

The Hastings Center, which hosts the Bioethics Forum, is well known for its work in bioethics. I’ve been reading Hastings Center reports for years, in connection with my work. It is a reliable source. The authors of the post are Alice Dreger and Ellen K Feder. Dreger has been criticised by intersex people, but that particular line of criticism does not seem to have a bearing on this issue.

Alice Dreger has a follow-up post at her Psychology Today blog: Can you hear us now?.

I’m appalled. How could this still be happening, in the 21st century? Dreger and Feder compare the doctor’s actions to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, because he conducted his research in plain view, but I think there are closer parallels with Herbert Green and his non-treatment of some women at National Women’s Hospital. In both cases, I see a doctor determined to prove that he is right, and to hell with the consequences for the people he is supposed to be trying to help.

The obvious question is how on earth did Dr Pappas get his work approved by Cornell’s Ethics Committee? The answer is that he didn’t.

How come the article says Poppas had IRB (ethics oversight) approval and we suggest he probably didn’t? Because what he has approval for is retrospective chart review, a harmless little look back at what he recorded in the charts as having happened to his patients. What he didn’t do was to get approval in advance for the “clitoral sensory testing” that he was writing down in the chart and then used to produce the systematic and generalized conclusions about his technique. This may sound like a technicality. It isn’t. If he had sought IRB approval for the “sensory testing,” the ethics staff might have sat up and asked him what the heck he thought he was doing to these girls, and they would have tried to make sure the parents were informed about the unknowns and risks, and the girls could have refused to participate.

Source: Alice Dreger’s blog post.

This doctor has been using “medical vibratory devices” on little girls and calling it research.

I feel ill.

Melissa has opened a discussion about it: Discussion Thread: Cornell University and FGC, and Melhoukia has been writing about it: This makes me sick: There are not enough content warnings in the world for what you are about to read. I first heard about the article through Feminist Philosophers: FGM at Cornell.

You can contact the Dean of the Cornell Medical School here:

Men are cared for: women are divorced

From Science Daily

A woman is six times more likely to be separated or divorced soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than if a man in the relationship is the patient, according to a study that examined the role gender played in so-called “partner abandonment.

H/T: Barvasfiend

The overall rate of divorce is consistent with standard divorce rates, but once one partner in a relationship is diagnosed with cancer or multiple sclerosis, then the biggest predictor of separation or divorce was the gender of the patient. If men became ill, women stayed and looked after them, but if women became ill, then the male partners were much more likely to leave.

The article politely suggests that the rate of women staying was because they are much more able to take on caring roles, whereas men found it hard to make the commitment. I’m a little more cynical than that. I wonder if it’s because many men are used to being cared for, and expect to be cared for, so if their partner is ill and can no longer perform the caring function, then why, they’ll just find someone who will.

SotBO (Statement of the Bleedin’ Obvious, which useful acronym I lifted from here): Most men with sick partners do not leave their partners. About 80% of men with sick partners stay with and care for their partner.

However, there is a huge disparity between the stay and go rates for women and men. Only about 2.9% of women with sick partners leave. The question is, why?


I believe that I vaguely promised a food post today, but right now I’m going to bed. So (vaguely), tomorrow, tomorrow…

Also, if you click through to Barvasfiend’s place where I found out about this study, you should read her post about swimming with dolphins, at a beach in or near Sydney, yesterday.


Via Dr Isis, a fascinating look at global flight patterns over 24 hours. It really is worth 72 seconds of your life to watch this.

I’m fascinated by the patterns – the explosion of lights as the day advances over North America and Europe, and the waves of busy-ness back and forth across the Tasman. You can see all those wretched pre-dawn departures from and late night arrivals into New Zealand, so scheduled to enable airlines to cram four flights into a “day.”

It also put me in mind of the Astronomy Picture of the Day showing Earth at night. (Click here to get the best version of the picture.)

800px-Earthlights_dmspImage source: WikiCommons

It’s not so much the presence as the absence of light that is interesting; in Africa, you can see the development along the Nile, and then the great blank across most of the continent. Global flight patterns show many of the same gaps.

Just so we know what to think is carrying a story about research on sediment cores from a small Arctic lake. The research is peer reviewed, and seems to offer some fairly compelling evidence in support of the anthropogenic global warming thesis. (I’m being cautious with my language here, because I am not a scientist.)

But it seems that can’t just offer the story, and leave its readers to think about its significance. For them, it’s not proof, but ‘proof’. [link]


Too much Fox in the air at

Of course! It’s teh girleez’ fault!

I’ve been muttering about this to myself for days, wondering would I / wouldn’t I write about it. After all, the person I am about to criticise is someone I respect, and whose work I enjoy. But really, Poneke? Is it all teh girleez fault?

A few years back, Poneke delivered an address to the Sceptics Society conference, which is now posted on his blog. It’s a fascinating piece, showing that our mainstream media is far more sceptical about Western medicine and medical science than it is about new age nonsense, like homeopathy and iridology and feng shui. I find that a worrying trend too – why on earth is all this non-scientific crap getting a free pass? So I agree with the basic concerns raised by Poneke in his post. Moreover, I choose Western medicine over acupuncture, herbalism and prayer, every time. As for psychics and astrologers and other such charlatans who prey on other people’s tragedies, don’t get me started.

It’s when Ponoke stops reporting and analysing, and starts blaming, that I get upset. Why, he says, does the MSM give this kind of nonsense a free pass?

His answer – it’s all because there’s more girlies writing these days. He starts with the women’s mags, pointing out that they are full of stories about the alleged efficacy of the various alternative charms and spells. From there, he deduces that women are taken in by this stuff, and they like it. And that leads to saying that women journalists must believe in it. On top of that, it turns out that journalism is being feminised, even in the big newspapers. So the poor silly chookies have taken their uncritical belief in witchcraft and spread it right through the media.

The trouble is, Poneke’s analysis is based on what was published between September 2003 and August 2004 in 13 daily and weekly newspapers, including all the ‘big’ newspapers in New Zealand. Whatever the gender makeup of the newsrooms, aren’t most newspaper editors men? I know that the Sunday Star Times is edited by a woman, but as far as I can recall, during the time that Poneke used for his analysis, most of the other big newspapers were, and indeed still are, edited by men. So there must be a whole lot of mennies who have been brainwashed by the women’s mags too.

Of course, there is a much simpler explanation as to why the new age stuff gets this non-critical acceptance, even in the MSM. It sells. Rather than blaming the women writers for these pieces, it might simply be better to follow the money. Who would bother publishing a piece on feng shui if you couldn’t also sell the eyeballs to the advertisers?

That of course begs the question – why does this stuff sell? There must be an audience for it, or the women’s mags wouldn’t be full of it, and neither would the pieces in the MSM be so silly.

Poneke gives one highly plausible reason; following the cervical cancer debacle at National Women’s Hospital, many women, and presumably many men too, became deeply sceptical about doctors’ “authority”. But I think he misses another plausible explanation, to do with the way that women acquire and pass on information. And it’s not by listening to words of wisdom delivered from on high by people who can’t be bothered treating you with respect. Blue Milk has some words of advice for medical specialists, enthusiastically endorsed and added to by her commenters. Here’s the thing; if doctors treat you with contempt, brush aside your questions, tell you to just believe in them and trust them, and all the while, you know of far too many cases where trust in doctors has been rewarded with on-going contempt, then just how likely are you to go to them for further information, to feel that if you ask a question, it will be answered in a way that you can understand, without at the same time making you feel that you are stupid and small. In recent years, there’s been plenty of noise about the need to get men to see their doctors more often. I’m guessing that one of the reasons that men don’t like seeing doctors is not just that they don’t like admitting to ill health, but also that they don’t like being talked down to, and patronised. Their response? Avoid doctors. But what do women do in the same situation? Talk to each other. Gossip – pass on information and ideas. And that’s exactly the function that women’s magazines serve. Women connect with each other through them, get and pass on information, in an environment of equals.

So I think we can look deeper than the silly girlies when it comes to trying to explain why the MSM is so accepting to alternative medicines. I think that the explanations lie in the money trail, and in the failure of doctors and health professionals to treat women with respect, instead of treating them as a problem to be solved.

(As an aside, I’m not even so sure that the women’s mags are full of it. Last time I read one of them, at the hairdressers’, I found it was full of diet and weight pieces. Every celeb story commented on whether the person was looking too fat or too thin. And guess what? According to the mag, not a single person was looking good. I felt quite ill reading it.)

I see misogyny lurking in Poneke’s causal analysis. I wish he had dug a little further, thought a little harder about what might underpin the women’s mags, taken the time to look at the gender of people editing papers, not just writing them, and followed the money, rather than just blaming women. Of course I will continue to read and recommend Poneke to other people; I wouldn’t bother with this sort of analysis of some of the material presented on some of the other blogs around town. And no doubt he has plenty of issues with stuff that I write. In this case, however, I think he has just gotten it wrong.

So what finally pushed me to post on this? This charming bit of misogyny from Tumeke, where a woman is reviled for daring to have a baby. No mention of the baby’s father, who might just be held responsible too. No attempt to understand just how extraordinarily difficult it might be to care for a child in this woman’s circumstances. No idea that the woman might have had the baby because you know, that’s what people do. No – she is immediately dumped on for what the writer assumes to be her motives. What a great strategy – assign a motive to someone, then attack them for having that motivation. Fantastic. And there seems to be a nasty intersection of racism and sexism here too – would the writer have had a go at a white woman in quite the same way? I find it very odd, not least because the writers on Tumeke are often outspoken about racism, and the extent to which issues aren’t issues that the world should be concerned about if they only affect brown people.

Then there’s this bit of misogyny from The New Republic, analysed on Shakesville, and elsewhere in the feminist blogosphere.

And from Poneke himself, a nasty little jab at women. Not something he said himself, but did he really need to report this tired old sexism?

On top of that, Lyn wrote a nice piece about the web as menz space. Time to claim our space in it, she says.

So all my buttons have been pushed. And indeed, the fact that I sat on it for a few days, hesitating about whether or not to comment on it says something apropos of Lyn’s piece, all by itself.