No conspiracy. I think the media is lazy.

Here are three stories to demonstrate that media reporting on male circumcision borders on propaganda. First, from Aidsmap:

A meta-analysis of studies of circumcision in gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) has not found sufficient evidence to show that being circumcised reduced their risk of acquiring HIV. Although it finds a small reduction in the risk of HIV infection in circumcised men, this is not statistically significant – in other words it could just be a chance finding. Furthermore, the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that although circumcised men who were exclusively insertive for anal sex had a lower risk of infection with HIV, the difference with uncircumcised men was still not statistically significant and could have been chance.

Fair enough, and there are further possibly-relevant nuances in the article. Those aren’t my focus here (nor do they overcome my principled objection to forced circumcision). Rather, consider how the editor titled this news:

Jury still out on whether circumcision protects gay men against HIV

What would it take for the jury to finally be in? We see how quickly it’s in on unstudied results assumed from a study that appears to give the results the researcher wants. (The answer? Six days.) When the jury gives an answer you don’t like? Deliberate further. I don’t wonder why.

Note: We can debate the semantics of scientific investigation of the hypothesis and findings, but pro-circumcision researchers use only a very loose application of either.

Second, from Time (emphasis added):

Circumcision is believed to lower H.I.V. transmission in several ways. The inner surface of the foreskin is rich with cells that are more vulnerable to H.I.V. than cells on other parts of the penis; because they are also closer to the epithelial surface and at higher risk for tears during intercourse, they increase susceptibility to infection. Removal of the foreskin further lowers men’s odds of developing genital ulcers (from diseases such as syphilis), which in turn lowers their vulnerability to H.I.V. during intercourse. In theory, circumcision should be protective for all men who participate in insertive sex, including heterosexual men and men who have sex with men.

Believed to lower is accurate, because all studies involving (voluntary, adult!) male circumcision and HIV risk reduction look at results. None of them have shown what generates the results researchers claim. There are theories, but nothing concrete. It could be nothing more than flawed methodology, right? Yet, Time reported male circumcision’s claimed role in reducing HIV risk as its 2007 medical breakthrough of the year. Has the magazine changed its opinion to one of logically-defensible caution?

Third, from the Jerusalem Post:

Almost a third of male immigrants from the former Soviet Union are uncircumcised, according to a survey by the Geocartography Institute commissioned by the Jerusalem AIDS Project.

The survey also found that 2.2% of women who immigrated from the FSU “didn’t know” whether their partner was circumcised, and 72.8% of female partners of uncircumcised new immigrants would prefer that they don’t undergo ritual circumcision.

That 72.8% figure is interesting. It’s subjective, a point I actively make, even when it benefits me. But this is the type of irrelevant statistic pro-circumcision propagandists like Dr. Brian Morris love to spew when their carefully-chosen studies suggest that women prefer circumcised partners. We mark anyone who would argue in favor of compulsory breast implants for teen girls because their male partners prefer large breasts as intellectually ridiculous. The same applies here. What women prefer only matters if the male choosing circumcision for himself wants it to influence his decision. For the anti-intellectuals who don’t get this, the propaganda can work against them. They’ll never notice, of course.

Continuing, with emphasis added:

Research carried out abroad shows incontrovertibly that circumcision reduces by 60% the risk of a man being infected with HIV by a female carrier. In many African countries with high HIV rates, men are lining up for circumcision, and Israel’s experience in circumcising thousands of adult males has aroused interest in the UN and among African governments.

How does incontrovertibly reconcile with believed to lower? In the same way that “six in 10 circumcised men are immune to HIV infection”?

One thought on “No conspiracy. I think the media is lazy.”

  1. The jury stays out until they come back with the result they want. They didn’t get it this time so they’ll tweak the parameters of the study and try again. Under the right conditions, they’ll get the answer they want and then it will be a law of nature.

Comments are closed.