Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Circumcised Frontal Lobe

Believe it or not, there happen to be days when Hensley is right:

Slate is really good at cranking out the clickbait journalism (everyone seems to be following Huffington Post around).

This case is particularly egregious as far as it claims to have "science" on its side.

As it happens so often with journos reading studies, the article seems eager to do the following things:

  1. Inject itself into an ongoing flamewar on the internet
  2. Attempt to drop some "data" into the conversation
  3. Convince the reader that this "science" is relevant to their choices the debate
The error in the article is essentially in the following nonsensical paragraph:
But that’s not circumcision’s only benefit. The procedure also protects men against a variety of other STDs, significantly reducing their odds of contracting herpes and syphilis. Moreover, circumcision is highly effective in preventing transmission of HPV in men, which in turn reduces their risk of penile cancer. And circumcised men are far less likely to contract genital warts or develop urinary tract infections. Fewer circumcisions mean more STDs and infections—and billions more in health care spending.

So much of this is absurd.
  1. No reputable medical organization in any developed nation is seriously advocating circumcision as a way to put a cap on sexually transmitted infections
  2. The United States circumcision rate is already the highest in the developed world. However it is also #1 in sexually transmitted diseases. (USA #1! USA #1!) How does that work?
  3. One can get herpes and other infections from circumcision. 
  4. There is a HPV vaccine. Give it to people already!

One of the most insulting data points used is the reduced incidence of urinary tract infection. The idea that someone is going to cut parts off an infant so that it might avoid a round of antibiotics in later life is a ridiculous proposal.

Further, the "billions saved" in health care spending assumes that what we're already spending for routine infant circumcisions is already low without actually providing anything in terms of estimates.

Let's assume for a moment that every male in the nation was circumcised.

The American health care system does not remove 150+ million foreskins for free.

More on cost in a later post. For now, back to HIV.

What routine procedures would be more effective at ensuring that one's new baby boy does not contract HIV over his lifetime?

Some ideas:
  1. Slice the penis at the base instead of the tip
  2. Tattoo profanities on the boy's forehead
  3. Graft the removed foreskin onto the boy's chin
  4. Circumcise the pre-frontal cortex

Now, we haven't done the studies, but a little bit of logic informs us that the boy will have larger problems than potentially contracting HIV.

As an added bonus, the boy would be almost guaranteed a job at Slate.


  1. Thank you for this. I'm a bloke, and got pretty down about the Slate article and follow-up piece by (the awful) Jill Filipovic over at Feministe. It's nice to know there are lovely feminists out there. Thank you! :)

  2. Wasn't the "death and rape threat" message that Watson so proudly publicized in response to her dismissive attitude toward the brutality of male circumcision? I haven't seen the actual statement Rebecca made that managed to troll the living daylights out of whoever wrote that message. But I know her style of dropping vague assertions on Twitter, and pretending to be stunned by how her throw away non-sequitors managed to generate such outrage. You see, it must be because she's an outspoken women. All she said was, "don't do that", and 2 months later Elevatorgate ensued.
    So did Watson learn from Slate? Did Slate learn from Watson. Or is the recipe for generating internet drama become predictable?

    1. It may have been! You probably have a better memory than I do :) I haven't found anything to confirm or deny that yet, but she did have an article comparing it to FGM. Not sure where on the timeline it falls

  3. Thanks for being an awesome feminist!

  4. What more do these radfems have to do before the mainstream media catches on and realises that their entire existence is based on hating men?

    I mean here they are actually calling for all men to be physically mutilated and somehow it is just considered as fine. What the hell is going on? Imagine if the sexes are reversed here and how all hell would break loose.

    1. To be clear, the person in the wrong is a man named Mark Joseph Stern, and by many accounts is not a radfem.

  5. Harriet Hall wrote a pro-circumcision piece a few years back.
    As with most of these types of articles, the Slate piece included, it is not too difficult to find rationalizations for male circumcision - almost always to do with the procedure providing very slight benefits in terms of HIV or HPV infectivity rates, a lowering in the rates of penile cancer.
    These benefits are, however, almost never going to accrue until adulthood.
    The only medical statistically significant reason for circumcision in children is phimosis - an inability to retract the foreskin, which can lead to infection - but even so, only a tiny minority will require medical intervention and it is rarely a medical emergency.
    There is no good argument why the 90-95% of males who won't suffer this condition should also be circumcised.

    Hall does, however, list one benefit which I suspect is the real reason why the practice continues.
    "Aesthetics. Women allegedly prefer the appearance of a circumcised penis. Even if true, not a medical indication."
    In other words it is the objectification of an idealized 'cut' penis that perpetuates the practice.

    1. In the developed world, it is nothing more than a cosmetic procedure.

      It's rather interesting to hear people of either gender share their "preference". It's a big WTF all round.

    2. The form of FGM common in West Africa is similar in scope of tissure removed to male circumcision.
      It is interesting to view how it is defended by those who are advocates of the procedure.

      Fuambai Ahmadu, the writer of that piece compares it with cosmetic surgery - and I suspect the same thing could apply to male circumcision.
      In which case the procedure is ethical if the patient is old enough to make the decision for themselves.

  6. I'm confused... at first I thought Melody had to be trivializing genital mutilation, but then I read the part of the article and it was clearly in favor of it (wow, what bull, remember kids, don't just read articles off the internet, because they clearly can publish whatever the hell they want)...

    Soooo... isn't this a point in Melody's favor? She seems to actually be recognizing that it's not cool.

    OH. OMG. Is she being sarcastic? Not too noticeable at all. The only hint I'd have is that she's on FTB's team.

    1. Yep! This is a point in Melody's favor! She is correct!

      It seems possible to everyone to agree with Melody from time to time. :)