Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Beating It*

I should probably leave well enough alone, but I went to bed last night still thinking about the anti-circ petition and what I'd said about it, unable to let it go, and convinced I'd become bogged down in nitpicking the text instead of making the bigger points that were really under my skin. (Ew, how did I end up with lice metaphors?)

So, allow me to beat this dead horse.

I don't think opposition to routine circumcision is wrong -- generally I find it reasonable and justified, and though I chose to circumcise my son, I consider myself an opponent of routine circumcision. But this petition obliterates any respect I might ever have had for the sense of anyone involved with it because it A) seeks to shut down debate rather than encourage it, and B) shows no respect whatsoever for science or expertise.

If you have taken a position based on a reasonable interpretation of factual evidence, you should never be afraid to hear new evidence that tests your position. If you're correct, new evidence will bear you out. If you're incorrect, why would you want to maintain your position? Similarly, you shouldn't be afraid to argue the point, especially with an expert in the field. Opposition to routine circumcision isn't an irrational position and has considerable foundation in medical science, so of all the responses available to a potential challenge, why on earth choose the one that boils down to SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP LALALALALA WE CAN'T HEAR YOU?

I can't fathom what motive the authors and supporters of the petition ascribe to the CDC for doing something so unethical and counter to its mission as ignoring -- not insufficiently weighing, but ignoring -- the risks of a procedure it is considering recommending. The CDC is not some crazy bunch of penis-mutilating yahoos. It is a body of public health experts. Being human, of course, they are fallible and certainly have biases of their own. It is foolish to take their word as gospel, but it is equally foolish not to accord them the respect their expertise deserves. If we could all conduct research and draw appropriate conclusions, we wouldn't need scientists, but the fact is that we're all a little busy doing other things, and many of us plumb ain't smart enough, and few of us have the talent or training, honed over a lifetime, to conduct or interpret the kind of medical research that the CDC is reviewing before making its recommendations. Skepticism is fine -- it's admirable even -- but when it crosses the line into anti-intellectualism, into opposition to science itself, it deserves a smackdown.

Though I chose to circumcise my son, I do not support routine circumcision. But if the CDC is considering recommending it, I'm certainly interested to hear why. What research, what interpretation of the research, could support such a radical position? I look forward to the opportunity to re-evaluate my own position in light of new evidence or new argument. I look forward to hearing the opposition's response -- if it's rational, if it's based, as the CDC's certainly will be, on evidence and informed interpretation.

I definitely look forward to any chance to improve public health. If it turns out that the research demonstrates that routine circumcision actually does provide a significant protection against deadly STDs, against cancer, wouldn't that be good news?

*I'm so sorry. I'm 12, and I can't write two whole blog posts about penises without a single bad pun.


Marya said...

There is just no discussing this stuff in certain circles. Only one answer is allowed.

In fact the Mothering forums have, or used to have, an explicit policy against discussing any benefits of circumcision. They don't want to hear it.

Mark Lyndon said...

I think it's unfair to suggest that intactivists are trying to shut down debate and have no respect for science. I try to read as much new research as I can about circumcision, and I haven't seen anything yet that even comes close to justifying cutting parts off the genitals of children before they're old enough to make an informed decision for themselves. It's not impossible that something might emerge in the future, but I think it's unlikely. I thought I might have to support mass circumcision in Africa, until I found out more about the data, but the evidence seems to suggest to me that circumcision in Africa will make the AIDS problem significantly worse.

The problem with the current push to circumcise is that it assumes that the foreskin is just some random bit of skin like an earlobe, rather than an important part of someone's genitals.

Imagine the burden of proof for any form of female genital cutting to be accepted as a health measure. Or look at it this way - about 12% of US women develop breast cancer, and we could prevent that by operating on baby girls. That wouldn't make it right though. (Some women have elective mastectomy if they carry a certain gene which makes them highly likely to develop breast cancer, but it's not performed on children).

Leah said...

Well done, Holly.