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When Bad Science Kills

May 26, 2012

Earlier this week, blogger and intactivist Andrew Sullivan posted a short piece titled Circumcision Spreads HIV? on his blog, the Daily Beast. Sullivan’s post is brief, but his message is critically important: the “African studies” being used as “evidence” to promote circumcision as HIV prevention are bogus, and the promotion of circumcision will actually increase HIV deaths. Sullivan cites an excellent new article by Oxford University’s Brian Earp, titled A fatal irony: Why the “circumcision solution” to the AIDS epidemic in Africa will increase transmission of HIV.  Earp calls the pro-circumcision camp’s African trials “bad science at its most dangerous.”

“We are talking about poorly conducted experiments with dubious results presented in an outrageously misleading fashion. These data are then harnessed to support public health recommendations on a massive scale whose implementation would almost certainly have the opposite of the claimed effect, with fatal consequences.”

Earp goes on to explain why the trials are faulty, and how they show that mass circumcision will actually increase the spread of HIV.

I have felt for years that the entire campaign to circumcise Africa (because that’s what it is—it’s not true, unbiased research) stinks to high heaven. It’s medical imperialism at its worst (see my February 8 post, The Business of Circumcision, Indeed).

Since its founding in 2009, Intact America has been a small but important dissenting voice on this issue. We have looked at the ethics, the methodology, and the data produced by the crowd of mostly American, mostly circumcised scientists and social scientists who seem to feel that Africans cannot possibly be persuaded to use condoms, and that it’s ok to expose women to HIV if their male partners refuse to be tested and are circumcised nonetheless.

In 2009, we went to the Centers for Disease Control HIV Prevention meeting in Atlanta, and confronted the pro-circumcision CDC officials about their unethical promotion of circumcision for African men—the same officials who decry the genital cutting of women. We were instrumental in getting the CDC to refrain from releasing recommendations about circumcision as HIV prevention. And we have put the American Academy of Pediatrics on notice that any attempt to use the “African studies” to bolster the practice of infant circumcision in the United States will be met with serious exposure of that trade association’s ethical bankruptcy on the issue of circumcision.

Along with Intact America, people like Sullivan and Earp know the truth about the pro-circumcision camp conducting and promoting the “African studies.” They see the blatant disregard for informed consent; the misrepresentation of risk in absolute rather than relative terms; the deliberate non-disclosure of data that suggests the superior efficacy of benign, non-surgical methods of prevention; and the unbridled enthusiasm for mutilating the genitals of black Africans—all of which makes the Tuskegee syphilis experiment look like a warm-up exercise. The word is finally getting out: Circumcising Africa WILL KILL AFRICANS. Please read Andrew’s blog post as well as the Oxford article, and share them on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks. People need to know the truth behind these trials, and the truth that circumcision does not prevent HIV.

Georganne Chapin

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Rachel permalink
    September 7, 2012 12:05 am

    First of all, I am 100% anti-circumcision and am actually writing a research paper on the subject. One thing I cannot seem to find is why the research in Africa is faulty. I realize that it is bad science, but why?

    Scientists are saying that circumcision reduces the risk of contracting the HIV virus. Why are they saying this and how is the data misused? Can someone fill me in here?

  2. June 1, 2012 11:24 am

    “…and the unbridled enthusiasm for mutilating the genitals of black Africans—all of which makes the Tuskegee syphilis experiment look like a warm-up exercise.”

    In other words, Circumcise the Brutes!

  3. Dan Bollinger permalink*
    June 1, 2012 8:27 am

    Another article that should be mentioned here is “The Cost to Circumcise Africa.” It finds that condoms are 95 time more cost effective than cutting. Circumcision doesn’t work, but it is profitable.

    The International Coalition for Genital Integrity has been saying circumcision will increase HIV for 12 years. The writing has been on the wall for that long. And, people are starting to wise up that cutting penises is not the way to stop an epidemic. The handful of circumcision promoters called it a “vaccine.” I call it a mass emasculation.

    McAllister RG, Travis JW, Bollinger D, Rutiser C, Sundar V. The cost to circumcise Africa. Int J Men’s Health. 2008;7(3):218-321.

    • Georganne Chapin permalink
      May 31, 2012 4:22 pm

      Yes, we have read it. This article demonstrates how bad science becomes “fact” and how, in a culture predisposed to removing a normal part of the male anatomy, the bar for “proving” circumcision’s supposed benefit is lower than that for showing circumcision to be worthless or harmful.

      First, the study relies on self-reports of circumcision status, age at first intercourse, and sexually transmitted diseases. All are unreliable. For circumcision status alone, the accuracy of self-reports are +/ – 5 percent; this alone renders statistically insignificant the actual, correctly calculated difference of 2.7% in the two groups.

      Second, the body of medical literature from the U.S. and abroad does not support a lower risk of sexually transmitted diseases in circumcised men.

      Third, given the authors’ own admission that “the exact mechanism remains unknown,” the conclusion requires us to accept that “germs flourishing in the moist environment under the foreskin” somehow leap into the prostate and cause cancer.

      In other words, this article represents a pathetic, speculative, and irresponsible effort to bootstrap non-findings into “evidence” created to bolster the agenda of two well-known promoters of universal circumcision at any cost.

    • myrick permalink
      May 31, 2012 9:29 pm

      The authors are Brian Morris and Jake Waskett. No more need be said.

    • Petit Poulet permalink
      May 31, 2012 10:12 pm

      Morris and Waskett published similar twaddle a couple years ago in the BJU International. Their one-sided data were subsequently revealed to be pablum. Same is true here. The problems is that they are citing studies from decades ago that have long since been refuted. For example, the reason Sweden had more prostate cancer than Israel is because Swedish men were older. The same may be true of the graph in the study as such data has be adjusted for age. It is interesting when a geographic analysis supports the position Morris and Waskett believe in, it is perfectly valid, but when geographic analysis, such as the HIV rate in developed countries being positively correlated with the circumcision rate, they dismiss this form of analysis as unreliable. You have to admit they reached pretty deep when they found the Asian Journal of Andrology to publish their speculations.

    • Dan Bollinger permalink*
      June 1, 2012 8:41 am

      Actually, Georganne, false penile status rate is much higher. Two studies have shown that 30% of men are unsure or mistaken about their penile status. This would skew any study so far as to make it useless. As they say, “junk in, junk out.”

      Morris and Waskett are not to be believed. Half their articles aren’t published in journals where scientists review the article first, but in vanity journals where you PAY to have your article published.

  4. Petit Poulet permalink
    May 29, 2012 9:30 pm

    Have seen Andrew Sullivan on “Real Time” with Bill Maher several times. Andrew was on the side of children during the San Francisco ballot initiative, too. If only we could have gotten Christopher Hitchens to join up the Andrew to convince Bill Maher that he needs view circumcision as another way in which religion can mess with our lives.

  5. ian wilkinson permalink
    May 27, 2012 7:01 pm

    Sexually Transmitted Infections is another measure of Public Health where infant circumcision has failed the USA when compared to Non-Circumcision nations of Europe. The USA has 1200% higher HIV infections than No-Circ Finland (in Press) has 500% higher HIV infections than No-Circ Germany & 300% higher HIV infections than no-circ Holland. . The USA has 2.7 times the Syphillus infections than than no-circ Holland. . The USA has 33 times the Gonnoreah infections than than no-circ Holland. . The USA has 19 times the Chlamydia infections than No-Circ Holland. Infant Circumcision has failed the USA on the health measure of STI Infection rates.
    (Advocates for Youth data) http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/fsest.pdf

  6. Gregory Tutko permalink
    May 27, 2012 10:32 am

    If there is any population sampling, in comparing HIV and circumcision statistics, that clearly shows the truth regarding this issue, no nation is more clearly a proof of the total absence of “protection” from viral transmission in circumcised sexually active men than is the US. 90% of the male population was cut at birth between the 40’s and the 70’s. We had the highest circ’ rate and the highest HIV infection. Not until we woke up to the harm caused did we start to say NO to the medical establishment, both regarding circumcision and childbirth practices as a whole, did the rates begin to change in neo-natal circumcisions. Sadly the HIV rates have not followed. However in Europe, where circumcision is rare, HIV rates are considerably lower as compared to the US. The only reason that the African statistics are being used to argue in favor of universal circumcision is the fees charged by practitioners and the profits to the manufacturers of devices used to perform the mutilations. Let there be no doubt, this is a money making business.

    Bravo to the work you are doing to spread the word. Future generations of intact men will thank you for efforts today. We are all indebted to your efforts.

  7. Bettie M. permalink
    May 26, 2012 5:14 pm

    The use of this ridiculous claim (lack of circumcision predisposes you to “AIDS”) is just one nasty result of the giant lie that a virus somehow causes total breakdown of one’s immune system. People in Africa are stilll dying of the thing that they have been dying of for a very long time – malnutrition, parasites & other aspects of severe poverty. As to homosexuals with “AIDS” in the comfy overfed western world, read Peter Duesberg’s & Brian Ellison’s books as well as “AIDS Inc.” by Rappoport. In case you do not know, the contrarian view of AIDS/HIV espoused by Duesberg and quite a few other scientists is borderline illegal. It’s called “AIDS denialism”. Pretty soon it will be against the law to claim that circumcision has no benefits and that it, indeed, causes serious problems. Just wait. Things are moving that way.

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