Posts Tagged the only cure for bad science is more science

Breaking news: Abortion STILL does not cause breast cancer.

I am still not 100% healthy and snark-ready, but since I am alert enough to troll Facebook, I will make a little addition to this post here, from way back.

Via Facebook, Defund the Komen Foundation gives us this tidbit, from a retired cancer researcher:

“Recently at a conference I spoke with the person who discovered BRCA1, and she laughed and said that it [the abortion/breast cancer link] was indeed bullshit, because he hadn’t corrected for age. In the study that the guy cited, the women who had abortions had the procedures done when they were young but then had children later in their lives. The comparison population was women who had children when they were young, and there is a degree of protection against breast cancer afforded from having children at a young age (believed due to hormonal changes that accompany lactation). When one corrects for the age of childbirth in the guys data, the difference disappears. So abortion had no effect on breast cancer at all; it was the effect of when the women had children.”

Yet that initial, incorrect story persists, because it fits the meme.”

Yeah, the meme is that being in control of your fertility is associated with a somewhat higher lifetime risk of certain cancers. And yet, women continue to use birth control, as if we have priorities in life aside from placating the Booby Spirits. Those fickle demons are unreliable, and their rewards are no substitute for having ownership over our lives.

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The British Journal of Psychiatry should be embarrassed.

PZ Myers shows us the fiasco of a putative meta-analysis of mental health risks of abortion, published by the British Journal of Psychiatry and torn apart by Jim Coyne at Psychology Today. The problems with the analysis are briefly summarized as follows:

1. The author has a conflict of interest on the subject, as she is an anti-abortion advocate, and failed to disclose this in her submission to the journal.

2. The analysis used 22 studies, half of which were conducted by the author herself. She did not disclose which studies were excluded and why.

3. Her own studies used in the analysis range from unreliable to meaningless.

Since when did scientific rigor ever get in the way of a good scare tactic? Coyne helpfully quotes National Right to Life News as summarizing conclusions such as:

“Women who aborted have a 55 percent higher risk of mental health problems compared to women with an ‘unplanned’ pregnancy who gave birth.

Yeah, I just love the scare quotes around “unplanned.”

NRtLN’s summary conflates the comparison between women who have aborted vs. not aborted, with those who have aborted vs. given birth. It confuses an outcome for a given pregnancy with lifetime experience. IOW: it is possible for a woman to have at least one abortion AND have at least one live birth. The majority of women having a first abortion are already mothers, and many others have children later.

If what they mean by “aborted vs. given birth” is the comparison of women who’ve had at least one abortion with those who’ve had at least one live birth and no abortions, then they should freaking well say so, and furthermore, they need to limit the comparison to women who became pregnant when they didn’t want to. Since this is an organization that uses scare quotes around unplanned pregnancy, such respect for confounding factors is probably too much to ask.

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What it means to lie

When we talk about lying, we usually assume we’re talking about outright fabrication: making a statement of fact which directly contradicts reality, but actually there are several different ways to lie. One might exaggerate or distort, or lie by omission. One might distract from the issue by weaseling around the question. All of these are effective ways to coerce people to behave in certain ways, which is the purpose of deception. It wouldn’t occur to anyone to lie if it made no difference in the way other people respond.

But then there is the good old-fashioned, straight up lie, in which you simply make shit up because the truth gets in the way.

Exhibit A: Andrew Wakefield.

What do you call it when people in positions of authority get together and create an outright falsehood for the purpose of pursuing a lucrative lawsuit over a problem that doesn’t exist? What do you call it when they turn that falsehood into hysteria that leaves thousands of people—especially small children—vulnerable to otherwise preventable disease, which inevitably kills some of them? What do you call it when they make a career out of lying to parents of young children about the health risks facing their kids, out of demonizing the big bad corporations that make products which actually keep people healthy?

What do you call it when you promulgate a lie that spreads disease that used to be vaccinated to near-nonexistence, without making the slightest dent in autism rates?

Because that’s what I call evil.

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Comparing oranges to citrus fruits

Via Amanda Marcotte on Twitter, Brenda Major sets the record straight at WaPo on mental health after abortion:

As part of this strategy, some antiabortion activists, such as David Reardon of the Elliot Institute, an antiabortion advocacy group, have scoured existing survey data for evidence linking abortion and a wide variety of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and alcohol use. They cite any correlations they find as evidence that abortion causes harm to women.

But there are at least two logical flaws at play here. The first is a confusion of correlation with causation. The most plausible explanation for the association that some studies find between abortion and mental health is that it reflects preexisting differences between women who continue a pregnancy and those who end one.

Prof. Major stops short of pointing out, in so many words, that the Elliot Institute and its ilk are basically comparing oranges to citrus fruits. It is piss-poor social science to compare women who resolve their unintended pregnancies through abortion to the general population of women who give birth. The latter group includes women with pregnancies covering the full range of planned and unplanned, wanted and unwanted. The former is pretty much by definition, composed overwhelmingly of women with unintended, unwanted pregnancies. The remainder are women with life-threatening health problems and those carrying fetuses with major abnormalities.

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Atheists outperform believers on religion quiz; Internet shits itself

My Facebook feed is just…covered in this story. Atheists Outdo Some Believers in Survey on Religion. Since I am perpetually hyperconscious of being perpetually out of the loop, I just had to know what everyone was talking about, and this is what it says:

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions [...]

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

Sure enough, at the top of the list are atheists/agnostics, followed razor-close behind by Jews and Mormons. Evangelicals, Catholics and mainline Protestants follow.

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Race, dating, and lazy-ass statistics

Race relations AND online dating? TNC is making me absurdly excited today.

After sharing OKCupid’s report on racial preferences among its users, he lends us some perspective:

Look, I deeply suspect that, on a national level, there are an unfortunate number of people who think black women are less attractive then women of other races. The remnants of white supremacy are not just economic, they are cultural. I also think that’s less true today then it was twenty years ago.

But that said, I think that people passing this data around need to be really careful about using this study to draw inferences about the dating world of black women. One significant problem is that, as any black person will tell you, when black folks date online they don’t go to OKcupid. They go to blacksingles. They go to soulsingles. Or if they’re truly high post, they go to EliteNoire. (Dig the sensuous piano riffs and candelabra.)

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