Archive for June, 2010

A Lousy Sense of Smell

Posted in Science with tags , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2010 by neandergal

Scientists have mapped the genome of the body louse (Pediculus humanus humanus) and found that it has a lousy sense of smell.

The louse contains 108 million DNA base pairs (bp) whereas their human host genome has three billion bp.The blood of their human host is the exclusive diet of the louse so they did not evolve to have a sense of smell. The louse is responsible for the spread of diseases like typhus and trench fever.

Scientists are itching to learn more about the genome of the louse as it may help to prevent epidemic outbreaks of these diseases among people who live in insanitary conditions.Analysis of DNA reveals that the body louse evolved from head lice when humans started wearing clothes some 190.000 years ago.The evolutionary process of louse will undoubtedly have entomologists scratching their heads for quite some time.

Source: Scientific American: Full genome sequence shows body lice have lousy sense of smell

Foreskins are not Clitorises

Posted in Religion, Science with tags , , , , , , , on June 1, 2010 by neandergal

“I was genitally mutilated at the age of ten. When the operation began, I put up a big fight. The pain was terrible and unbearable… I was badly cut and lost blood… I was genitally mutilated with a blunt penknife. After the operation, no one was allowed to aid me to walk… Sometimes I had to force myself not to urinate for fear of the terrible pain. I was not given any anesthetic in the operation to reduce my pain, nor any antibiotics to fight against infection. Afterwards, I hemorrhaged and became anemic. This was attributed to witchcraft. I suffered for a long time from acute vaginal infections.” -Hannah Koroma, Sierra Leone (Amnesty International Website)

        Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested the nicking (cutting) of the clitoris as a compromise to help prevent more serious grades of female genital mutilation. The suggestion was met with outrage and the AAP subsequently withdrew their statement. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the ritual practiced by some Muslim communities that often entails complete removal of the clitoris and labia and stitching up of the raw wound allowing a small hole for menstrual flow and urination. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) surveys, prevalence of the practice varies widely. The prevalence is 85% in seven of the 28 countries identified by the WHO. As usual, whenever the subject of female genital mutilation comes up, the anti-male-circumcision brigade rear their ugly heads (pun intended) and claim, “it’s all mutilation!” Those who draw parallels between male circumcision (MC) and FGM tend to fall into two groups; the moral relativists who contend that both FGM and medical circumcision is genital mutilation and the anti-circumcision deniers who deny any evidence that medical neonatal male circumcision has health benefits. Those against medical male circumcision claim the procedure is barbaric, forced upon children and is mutilation of the genitalia. One would never think it necessary to state an obvious fact that foreskins are not clitorises, but alas, there is a proliferation of misinformation and view points that suggest a warrant for a full explanation. There are no parallels to be drawn between medical male circumcision and female genital mutilation.

        It is impossible to argue with moral relativists who claim that referring to FGM as “dehumanizing” is a valued judgement. We cannot pass judgement because there are no universal rights or wrongs. This is the usual wishy-washy mantra of the moral relativist. Fortunately, we do pass valued judgements which is why the WHO published in 2008, Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: an interagency statement. The practice of FGM violates numerous international human rights treaties listed in the statement. FGM is dehumanizing, because it violates the rights of a child. According to the WHO statement, “One of the guiding principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the primary consideration of ‘the best interests of the child’.” FGM hardly serves a child’s best interests, which is protection from harm that inevitably has dire and irreversible physical and mental health consequences. FGM interferes with a woman’s body in a way that causes extreme pain, denial of sexual pleasure, serious health risks some of which include, recurring urinary tract infections and child birth complications that endanger a mother and her baby’s life (this is assuming she reaches child bearing age.) Another problem arises when the moral relativists refer to male circumcision as “mutilation.”

        Male circumcision as part of a non-religious medical procedure is not mutilation. Removal of the foreskin does not interfere with a man’s physical or mental health. The clitoris is analogous to the glans penis or head; not the foreskin. When we start lobbing the heads off penises, then we will have the equivalent to FGM in the male. We do not lob heads off penises for solely religious practices. We do not lob heads off penises at all. We remove foreskins. Foreskins are not clitorises. Unlike FGM, there is strong evidence of health benefits to MC.

        According to the Center of Disease Control, male circumcision has numerous health benefits including lowered risk for penile cancer, and less risk of infection from STIs and growing evidence that circumcision may reduce the risk of HIV infection by 60% in heterosexual men. The evidence of health benefits is overwhelming. This has spurned an increased effort by the WHO and its agencies to increase male circumcision rates in countries (mainly African nations) where there is a high prevalence of and greater risk of disease. However, evidence is not required for the belief system of the deniers.

        Anti-circumcisers deny or refute the evidence of health benefits. They follow the same format as the anti-vaccination, anti-climate change, holocaust deniers, anti-evolutionists and so on by denying or refuting evidence that comes their way. Anti-evolutionists deny the fossil record, the anti-vaccination crowd claim “big pharma” conspiracies, holocaust deniers claim a Jewish conspiracy to set up the state of Israel and so on. Deniers generate their own facts from opinion and seek not truth, but misinformation that confirms their bias. In psychology this thought process is called, conformation bias. It is true that scientists can have the same problems with confirmation bias. Hence the need, for double blind studies and a peer-review process. Examining evidence would negate and therefore dismantle the deniers’ belief systems. Instead of accepting evidence that disproves their views, they systematically resort to straw man arguments or draw upon over-generalizations like equating medical MC with FGM which is false. Equating the two procedure is false because the evidence refutes any suggestion of equality between the two procedures.

        Medical male circumcision is a procedure with the intent to provide added health benefits in as painless and humane way as possible. It does not marginalize a male in anyway whatsoever. FGM is exclusively a religious ritual that has no health benefits. FGM continues solely because of its cultural significance in some Muslim communities. Amnesty International state that, “It is a human rights abuse that functions as an instrument for socializing girls into prescribed gender roles within the family and community.” Such an abuse does not in anyway compare to MC.

        The road to behavior and changes in attitude within these cultures is a long one. Political correctness in the form of moral and cultural relativism will delay progress and expose more young girls to abuse. It is quite rightly considered by the world as a form of child abuse. To draw parallels with any form of Female Genital Mutilation and Medical Male Circumcision is nothing short of being ignorant of the facts and misogynistic.