Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Politically Correct Research: When Science, Morals and Political Agendas Collide

What happens when a researcher is bold enough to publish findings that contradict popular, long-held beliefs, and shake core foundations?

Emotions run high, fallacious arguments are made, conclusions are jumped to, and logic and reason fly out the window.

Popular Beliefs Regarding Female Genital Cutting
Activists involved in trying to bring an end to the practice of female genital cutting purport that female genital cutting, or "mutilation" in their words, has all kinds of negative side effects.

One of the most popular claims of activists in the anti-FGM movement is that female genital cutting eliminates in a woman her ability to experience orgasm, leaving her to be a sexual cripple for the rest of her life.

Never actually making attempts to substantiate this claim, it is enough to say that the intent of female circumcision is to diminish a woman's sexuality.

This is a core belief in the anti-FGM movement, which is often used to parry any suggestion that the practice of male circumcision could be compared to female circumcision (and therefore equally appalling and worthy of eradicating), which is always, under any circumstance, "mutilation." (Even though the "intent" to curb male sexuality was the reason circumcision was introduced in Western countries.)

"Female circumcision removes the clitoris, which is equivalent to the removal of the entire penile shaft," the argument goes.

"Male and female circumcision can't be compared."

Putting the Lie to anti-FGM Claims
In my experience, people making claims that sensationalize female genital cutting, but that trivialize male genital cutting, often go unchallenged.

The delusion that female circumcision is one and the same in every case, that all women have their external genitalia removed, and have their vaginal opening sewn shut is put forth, and the claim that female circumcision destroys a woman's ability to orgasm, is readily believed.

The myth that female circumcision is the same across the board is demonstrably false, and one only need to compare female genital cutting practices around the world to realize that there is a broad spectrum in regards to female genital cutting.

Female genital cutting can range from making a small incision to draw a symbolic drop of blood, to a "ritual nick" as described by the AAP, to just the removal of the clitoral hood, to the removal of the labia, to the removal of the clitoris itself, to the removal of the external labia, to sewing up the vaginal opening to leave a small hole. Female circumcision may or may not include all of these. The worst kind of female genital cutting which does, also known as "infibulation," or "pharaonic circumcision," is actually the rarest kind of female genital cutting, at 15% globally.

Not too long ago, Swedish professor Sara Johnsdotter published findings that shook the core belief that female genital cutting, particularly the removal of the clitoris, destroys a woman's capacity to experience orgasm.

Johnsdotter discovered not only that women who had undergone some sort of genital cutting were still able to orgasm, but also that women who had undergone infibulation, which is the worst documented type of female cutting, removing the clitoris and having the vaginal opening sewn shut, were still able to orgasm and have fulfilling sexual lives.

Science, Moral Values and Political Agendas
At least ideally, science is supposed to be fundamentally value-free and amoral. Researchers are supposed to be neutral, impartial, unbiased and dispassionate, and they are supposed to publish their findings as they found them. Something is either true, or not. At least in theory, findings are simply that, findings, and are not supposed to be "good," or "bad."

Ideology and reality, however, do not always coincide, and research, especially research involving male and female genital cutting, is plagued with political agenda, activism and moral judgement.

Having presented her findings at the World Congress for Sexual Health, Johnsdotter was criticized, being told that her research "only encourages female genital mutilation."

Italian researcher Lucrezia Catania, also presented at the same congress. According to her findings,  the little bump most people think of as the clitoris is actually only the tip. In fact the clitoris carries on deep inside the body, so even if the tip is cut off, there's plenty left for stimulation.

This image was taken from the Wikipedia article on the clitoris.

Even still, either mishearing or completely ignoring what the Italian researcher had just said, Egyptian sexology professor Hussein Ghanem insisted that "[T]he clitoris is the female equivalent of the penis... Let's cut off your penis and see how well you do!"

Further dismissing Johnsdotter, Ghanem insists "We must be very firm and clear that [female circumcision] is harmful, and that the majority of Egyptian and African women do not experience orgasm."

But contrary to Ghanem's assertions, Johnsdotter found, to her surprise, having studied Somali women living in Sweden, that they had a very positive view of sex, and had lots of sexual pleasure, including orgasms, even having undergone the most severe form of female genital cutting (or "mutilation," as Ghanem, and other anti-FGM activists, insist).

Johnsdotter found that it was the Somali women who were more integrated into Swedish society, and more aware of campaigns stressing that genital cutting ruins women's sex lives, who had a negative view about sex and their genital cutting.

Hussein Ghanem argues that the Swedish and Italian researchers are "playing right into the hands of people who defend genital cutting." He claims a colleague of his, who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is now  using the Italian findings show the practice isn't so bad after all.

"Help the victims, but condemn the practice," says Hussein Ghanem.

But Johnsdotter's approach is different: "You have real victims, women who suffer all their lives, but you also have many women who live very well with it. A respectful treatment would talk to both kinds of women, with all kinds of experiences. Don't start by telling people they're barbarous and that they torture their own daughters, focus on bodily integrity and human rights, a woman's right to keep her genitals in one piece."

So here we observe that researchers are presenting what they found, and even though the researchers themselves are morally opposed to the practice of forced genital cutting in women, we have others who are morally opposed to publishing findings, as true and valid as they are, that contrast with the with their activist slogans that female circumcision is sexually crippling.

We are witnessing what happens when researchers publish findings that aren't politically correct, conflict with popular belief and that challenge the status quo.

Findings vs. Politically Correct Research
I recently ran across some writings by Johnsdotter on TierneyLab. It was written in response to a post by WHO researchers, who were discussing the hazards of female genital cutting.

I'm going to cut and paste some excerpts from the writing that I think are very relevant to this blog, research concerning male and female circumcision, and research in general. I will pause between each excerpt and talk about how it is relevant to the discussion of "research" and male circumcision.

"One of the hazards for science is when politically correct results are uncritically welcomed, readily published and repeatedly cited; while politically embarrassing results are ignored or marginalized. Perhaps nowhere is this more obvious than in the study of “female genital mutilation,” where the roles of researchers and political activists often seem to be confused."

The same is true for the "study" of "male medical circumcision," except the situations between male and female circumcision are inverse.

While with female circumcision, publishing "research" that shows female circumcision is harmful, sexually debilitating, etc. are uncritically welcomed, readily published, repeatedly cited, and politically embarrassing findings (for example, research that shows female circumcision may actually beneficial, and may not affect sexuality) are ignored or marginalized, with *male* circumcision, it's the opposite.

With male circumcision, it is "research" that shows male circumcision is "beneficial," that it "does not cause sexual dysfunction" (perhaps even enhancing male sexual performance), that it "prevents disease" etc. which is uncritically welcomed, readily published, repeatedly cited etc. It is findings that show male circumcision is harmful, puts children in danger, causes sexual dysfunction etc. which are ignored, marginalized, etc.

"Other publications in leading medical journals suggest that the boundary between scientific research and activism has become blurred, to the detriment of scientific standards. The WHO study is one example of the uncritical rush to convey politically correct results.

One is left worrying that publication standards might have been compromised for the sake of making medical claims in support of the ongoing eradication campaigns."

Another example is how readily the WHO accepted the latest circumcision/HIV "research" in Africa, and used it immediately to initiate so-called "mass circumcision campaigns" across the continent.


"We do not necessarily question the statistical correlation that was found in this Lancet study. But we do call for a broader and more rigorous discussion of all published findings on FGM, including those published in prestigious medical journals. When it comes to publications on the topic of “FGM” we don’t see the usual critical scientific discussion regarding possible bias, possible confounders, or weak links in the causal hypotheses used or in study design."

And the same applies to male circumcision "research." 

"We suggest that this silence has to do with prevalent Western ideology concerning “female genital mutilation” and ongoing political projects. Activists, governmental bodies, funders and even editors of medical journals systematically welcome research results that can be used in preventive work while muting or hesitating to publish results that go against the grain of mainstream thinking regarding this issue."

The Western ideology concerning "male medical circumcision" is that it "causes no harm," that it is "not sexually debilitating," and that it may even be "beneficial" in preventing disease. It is also a practice that has taken hold in the United States (and previously in the British Commonwealth), and is a cherished tradition for Jews, Muslims and many African peoples. Activists, governmental bodies, donors and even editors of medical journals systematically welcome research and results that can be used in the promotion of male circumcision, while muting, or hesitating to publish results that go against the grain of mainstream thinking regarding male circumcision, if not their own core beliefs and values.



"This blurring of the distinction between science and activism is so endemic that researchers often present their 'hard facts' with explicit reference to their political agenda. The abstract of the article by Almroth et al. ends with a blunt comment: 'The association between FGM and primary infertility is highly relevant for preventive work against this ancient practice.'"

If one examines "research" regarding male circumcision, one will find similar comments along the lines of: "The association between male medical circumcision and a decreased rate of HIV transmission is highly relevant for the promotion of male circumcision as a method of HIV prevention." 

So in the end, does the research that finds itself in scientific journals convey neutral and dispassionate findings? Or does it convey politically correct results intended for the furthering of an agenda?

Attempts to Block Research from Publication
At the World Congress for Sexual Health, Hussein Ghanem criticized Sara Johnsdotter for presenting findings that went against his moral position that female genital cutting is "mutilation" and ought to be stopped. Ghanem's criticism goes as far to suggest that Johnsdotter's research "only encourages female genital mutilation." He continues with saying "We must be very firm and clear that [female circumcision] is harmful, and that the majority of Egyptian and African women do not experience orgasm," despite the fact that evidence that contradicts this belief was presented.

This is just one example of findings being criticized, with suggestions that they ought not to be published (and that mainstream beliefs be repeated) based on moral objections. (This despite the fact that Johnsdotter holds the same moral objections as Ghanem.)

(It must be pointed out: While academics who oppose FGM can get away with dismissing information that doesn't jive with them using the "moral" argument, those against MGM who challenge "research" being used to instate "mass circumcision campaigns" are called "emotional, science deniers.")

The following is but one documented example of similar behavior surrounding the publication of politically incorrect findings.

In 2011, Morten Frisch, an MD, PhD and Doctor of Medicine, a professor of sexual health epidemiology at Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen and at Aalborg University in Denmark, published a study, which showed an excess of orgasm difficulties in circumcised men, as well as significantly increased frequencies of orgasm difficulties, pain during intercource and a sense of incomplete sexual needs fulfillment in women with circumcised spouses.

This study was preceded by three other publications based on the same data set, dealing with sexual dysfunctions in Danish men and women in relation to socioeconomic factors, health factors and lifestyle factors, respectively, which were swimmingly published without serious criticisms from peer reviewers in the two most prestigious US journals of sexual health, the Journal of Sexual Medicine and Archives of Sexual Behavior. After adding the variable of male circumcision status to the analysis, however, the study was met with extremely critical reviews of everything about the entire data set.

In particular, Brian Morris, made extensive, obstructive peer-review comments in a review which included serious insinuations of racism and amateurism. (Brian Morris is quite possibly the most vocal circumcision advocate in Australia.) According to a letter of appreciation written by Morten Frisch to the editors of the International Journal of Epidemiology for the publication of his study, Frisch was informed by a colleague that Morris used his mailing list to enact a campaign to write critical letters to the editors of the International Journal of Epidemiology.


"I would like to thank the IJE editors for withstanding the pressure from one particularly discourteous and bullying reviewer who went to extremes to prevent our study from being published. After the paper's online publication, I have received emails from colleagues around the world who felt our contribution was useful and potentially important. One colleague informed me that the angry reviewer was the first author of the above letter to the editor. In an email, Morris had called people on his mailing list to arms against our study, openly admitting that he was the reviewer and that he had tried to get the paper rejected. To inspire his followers, Morris had attached his two exceedingly long and aggressive reviews of our paper (12858 words and 5291 words, respectively), calling for critical letters in abundance to the IJE editors. Breaking unwritten confidentiality and courtesy rules of the peer-review process, Morris distributed his slandering criticism of our study to people working for the same cause."
--Morten Frisch. Author's Response to: Does sexual function survey in Denmark offer any support for male circumcision having an adverse effect?

The Study of Adverse Effects of Circumcision Strictly Prohibited
At least in one case, scientific observers are severely reprimanded for attempting to document the adverse effects of circumcision, and they are told that any attempt to study them was "strictly prohibited by ethical regulations."

The following letter was sent out some time ago, by one Dr. Paul D. Tinari, Ph.D.

Two of my physics professors at Queen's University (Dr. Stewart & Dr. McKee) were the original developers of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) for medical applications. They and a number of other Queen's physicists also worked on improving the accuracy of fMRI for observing metabolic activity within the human body.

As a graduate student working in the Dept. of Epidemiology, I was approached by a group of nurses who were attempting to organize a protest against male infant circumcision in Kinston General Hospital. They said that their observations indicated that babies undergoing the procedure were subjected to significant and inhumane levels of pain that subsequently adversely affected their behaviours. They said that they needed some scientific support for their position. It was my idea to use fMRI and/or PET scanning to directly observe the effects of circumcision on the infant brain.

The operator of the MRI machine in the hospital was a friend of mine and he agreed to allow us to use the machine for research after normal operational hours. We also found a nurse who was under intense pressure by her husband to have her newborn son circumcised and she was willing to have her son to be the subject of the study. Her goal was to provide scientific information that would eventually be used to ban male infant circumcision. Since no permission of the ethics committee was required to perform any routine male infant circumcision, we did not feel it was necessary to seek any permission to carry out this study.

We tightly strapped an infant to a traditional plastic "circumrestraint" using Velcro restraints. We also completely immobilized the infant's head using standard surgical tape. The entire apparatus was then introduced into the MRI chamber. Since no metal objects could be used because of the high magnetic fields, the doctor who performed the surgery used a plastic bell ("Plastibell") with a sterilized obsidian bade to cut the foreskin. No anaesthetic was used.

The baby was kept in the machine for several minutes to generate baseline data of the normal metabolic activity in the brain. This was used to compare to the data gathered during and after the surgery. Analysis of the MRI data indicated that the surgery subjected the infant to significant trauma. The greatest changes occurred in the limbic system concentrating in the amygdala and in the frontal and temporal lobes.

A neurologist who saw the results postulated that the data indicated that circumcision affected most intensely the portions of the victim's brain associated with reasoning, perception and emotions. Follow up tests on the infant one day, one week and one month after the surgery indicated that the child's brain never returned to its baseline configuration. In other words, the evidence generated by this research indicated that the brain of the circumcised infant was permanently changed by the surgery.

Our problems began when we attempted to publish our findings in the open medical literature. All of the participants in the research including myself were called before the hospital discipline committee and were severely reprimanded. We were told that while male circumcision was legal under all circumstances in Canada, any attempt to study the adverse effects of circumcision was strictly prohibited by the ethical regulations. Not only could we not publish the results of our research, but we also had to destroy all of our results. If we refused to comply, we were all threatened with immediate dismissal and legal action.

I would encourage anyone with access to fMRI and /or PET scanning machines to repeat our research as described above, confirm our results, and then publish the results in the open literature.

Dr. Paul D. Tinari, Ph.D.
Director,
Pacific Institute for Advanced Study


One can already make the observation that this research would be biased from the very beginning, but not any more biased than research conducted by activists against female genital cutting.

Usually, findings are published, and are either validated or dismissed after other scientists have analyzed the data, methodology etc. But here we observe strict prohibition of observation, and the destruction of inconvenient findings by so-called "ethical regulations." Whose ethics dictate that the negative effects of a commonly performed surgical procedure are not to be documented is beyond me.

We also observe two contrasting sets of standards for the publishing of scientific observations of the genital cutting of each sex:

For female circumcision, observations of the adverse effects are readily and uncritically published, while observations that it may not be as harmful as thought, perhaps that it may even be beneficial, face skepticism, criticism and scrutiny. Some even go as far as saying that the latter should not be published, as it plays "right into the hands of people who defend genital cutting."

For male circumcision, it is observations of its adverse effects which are met with opposition, if not outright prohibition, while observations that circumcision is "not harmful," and may have "medical benefits" that are readily and uncritically published. There seems to be no concern that the latter may be used to justify the forced genital cutting of healthy, non-consenting minors.

"Studies show..." - How findings and their publication are tainted
An idea that has come to dominate both sides of the genital cutting debate is the dubious premise that, whether a practice is morally justified or morally reprehensible is determined by the outcome of some "study."


The reasoning goes as follows:

"If the practice is scientifically proven to be "harmless," even "beneficial," then it is morally justified, perhaps even a social imperative.

If it is shown to be "harmful" and have bad side effects," then it is morally reprehensible and must be condemned."

"Science" and "research" command respect, prestige and authority. Scientists and researchers are, at least in theory, supposed to be impartial, dispassionate and unbiased bearers of scientific fact, as opposed to mere opinion.

It is no surprise, then, that advocates of genital cutting, and opponents alike, seek to support their moral stance with the respect and authority of scientific research.

Morals are relative and subjective, but science is authoritative and final.

The argument is, then, no longer about moral values, but about "disease prevention" and "public health," which are assumed to be, not only morally justified, but also an indispensable and even a necessary social imperative.

A stance is now no-longer "opinion-based," but "evidence-based."

No longer "right," or "wrong," because that would sound like the imposition of values.

Instead, it is now either "beneficial," or "it has devastating consequences."

But using science and research to support a moral position is problematic; and Johnsdotter presents a clear example.

The problem of activists and politicians depending on scientific research to explain the merits of their principles leaves the door open to all kinds of abuse:

  • "Researchers" with an agenda taking liberties with what is supposed to be scientific data
  • Editors and reviewers using their positions to publish results that support their own personal views, and refusing to publish results which do not, in what are supposed to be scientific journals
  • Flawed research making farfetched associations between a practice and benefit/harm
  • Bad methodology that grossly overstates human costs and/or "net benefit" of a practice
  • The justification of actions that are actually morally repugnant under the guise of "disease prevention" and "public health"
  • Failure to cross-examine politically favorable "research," or subject it to critical scrutiny
  • The corruption of the scientific virtues of impartiality and balance in the assessment of evidence, and critical skepticism with regard to proposed hypotheses, and vigilance against value-driven confirmation bias in the conduct of research
  • Overall, political activism overwhelming science and research

Medicine becomes value-based, as opposed to "evidence-based."

"Science" and "research" is all good until findings begin to contradict chosen moral values.

Solution
Political activism, moral values and deeply held beliefs are factors that can permeate both sides of an issue. Activists on all sides of the genital cutting debate can be seen trying to wield the respect and authority of scientific research.

Genital cutting is but one example; search the literature for other controversial issues such as marijuana, abortion, or firearms, and you will find much more of the same; so-called "research" being used to shore up a chosen social policy.

So what is the solution?

What can be done to weed out politically correct "research" from actual dispassionate scientific findings?

To quote Johnsdotter again:
"We do not necessarily question the statistical correlation that was found in this Lancet study. But we do call for a broader and more rigorous discussion of all published findings on FGM, including those published in prestigious medical journals. When it comes to publications on the topic of “FGM” we don’t see the usual critical scientific discussion regarding possible bias, possible confounders, or weak links in the causal hypotheses used or in study design."

Usually, findings are published, and are either validated or dismissed after other scientists have analyzed the data, methodology etc. This is supposed to be the whole point of "peer review."

But personal convictions and moral values gum up this process.

As is seen in Johnsdotter's case, if Hussein Ghanem had his way, her findings would not be published because it doesn't jive with his personal a priori beliefs.

If Brian Morris had any say in the matter, only colleagues of his who are in complete agreement with his interpretations, analyses, and conclusions would be heard and all others, such as Danish researcher Morten Frisch, would be silenced.

In Paul Tinari's case, he was told that any attempt to study the adverse effects of male circumcision was strictly prohibited. He was forbidden from publish the results of his team's research, as well as commanded to destroy the results under the threat of immediate dismissal and legal action.

So for one thing, scientists ought to have the freedom to publish what is found, as they found it. Findings need to be published regardless of whom it pisses off.

But most of all, as Johnsdotter suggests, there needs to be a broader and more rigorous discussion of all published findings, including those published in prestigious medical journals.

The same critical scientific discussion regarding possible bias, possible confounders, weak links in in the causal hypotheses and/or in the study design, needs to be applied to research across the board, not just the research which doesn't support a particular moral stance or political agenda.

But scientific research can only undergo this scrutiny when it is published, an there may be self-interested individuals trying to keep this from happening.

Therefore, possible conflicts of interest, such as political agendas, activism, and cultural and religious bias, must be declared by scholars and scientists in every part of the peer review process, from the scientists and researchers, to editors and reviewers for scientific journals.

If not declared, then others need to have the courage to point them out. 

We must remember, when all is said and done...
Johnsdotter is to be commended for having the integrity to publish findings that do not support her own stance against female genital cutting. She sends the very important message that it is a mistake to use science and research to support a moral stance. It corrupts science (findings and their publication), and it distorts the definition of moral values.

Johnsdotter is warning of the danger of relying on findings to determine the moral justification or reprehension of a practice. Findings are beginning to show that female genital cutting practices aren't as catastrophic as anti-FGM activists would like others to believe. Some findings show that female genital cutting may actually enhance the sexual experience for both partners, and may even confer protection against disease. (See here and here.)

Scientific findings may actually be used to justify what may in fact be morally reprehensible.

The same warning applies to us intactivists.

There is not a doubt in my mind that the "scientific research" regarding circumcision has been hijacked by people with a pro-circumcision agenda. It is my personal view that scientific scrutiny would reveal that most of what is out there is grossly exaggerated and/or completely fabricated by circumcision advocates to support their own view that all males should be circumcised.

But Johnsdotter's warning applies to intactivists as well. It is a mistake for us to rely on scientific "research" to support our cause. It could very well be that male circumcision is not as harmful as we say, and that it does genuinely offer some kind of "benefit," to men.

It's an important part of any strategy to keep the truth, truth. If it doesn't cause serious problems, then this is what needs to be reported, and intactivists have to have the courage and integrity to acknowledge and recognize findings that don't support our cause. Johnsdotter sets a very good example.

We must remember that, after all is said and done, moral principles stand on their own.

The forced genital cutting of healthy, non-consenting individuals of any sex is morally reprehensible regardless of what "studies" say.



Genital mutilation, whether it be wrapped in culture, religion or “research” is still genital mutilation.

It is mistaken, the belief that the right amount of “science” can be used to legitimize the deliberate violation of basic human rights.
Not even if it could be made "painless," not even if it offered "medical benefits," not even if sexual experience would remain unscathed would forced genital cutting ever be justified in girls and women.

The same applies to boys and men.

Afterthoughts...
Johnsdotter says: "You have real victims, women who suffer all their lives, but you also have many women who live very well with it. A respectful treatment would talk to both kinds of women, with all kinds of experiences. Don't start by telling people they're barbarous and that they torture their own daughters, focus on bodily integrity and human rights, a woman's right to keep her genitals in one piece."

Perhaps both activists against FGM and MGM can learn from this.

Many people I've encountered who are both against FGM, but pro MGM, often say that parents who circumcise their boys love their children, and only do it because they believe it is what is best for them. Does this same consideration apply to parents who circumcised their daughters? Parents who circumcise their sons are "loving parents with good intentions," while parents who circumcise their daughters are thoughtless monsters?

Intactivists, while there are real victims of male genital mutilation, the fact is that that most circumcised males have a very positive view of sex, and have lots of sexual pleasure as well. Perhaps it would be better for our movement to talk about both kinds of men with all kinds of experiences. It would probably serve our movement better if we didn't start by telling people they're barbarous and that they torture their own sons. We should focus on genital integrity and human rights, and a man's right to keep his genitals in one piece.

31 comments:

  1. Thanks for another great post. I will say though that if we call parents who cut their daughters "barbarous" (which we do), then OF COURSE parents who cut their sons are barbarous.

    What hurts are movement is the following: Male circ is fully medicalized in American culture. But intactivists are putting "human rights" up against "medicine". Human rights will lose very time because "medical benefits" justify the ethics. Intactivism will never move forward until we can repudiate the "medical benefits" claims. I don't believe we can at the moment and there are a lot of reasons for that. I plan to explore this topic in a blog entry of my own within the next few weeks.

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    1. Regarding what we call parents, the self-serving double-standard of calling the parents who "choose" to circumcise male child "caring and loving people whose parental rights we should stay out of," while turning around and calling parents who "chose" to circumcise a female child "heartless monsters" is precisely what I wanted to bring attention to.

      I disagree with the second part of your comment, however. It seems you miss the whole point of this blog post. What undermines our movement is the dubious premise that an ethical case could be made for a morally repulsive practice with "research" and "studies."

      Female genital cutting faces this same danger, and Sara Johnsdotter is sending this message of warning.

      Opponents of forced genital cutting of either sex need to abandon this line of thinking, as it is fallacious, and only works as long as the findings coincide with assertions of "harm" and "long term consequence."

      Our arguments are solid and stand alone without the need of "studies" to back it up.

      The forced genital cutting of healthy, non-consenting individuals will always be wrong, regardless of what "studies" say. Johnsdotter is setting the perfect example. There would never be enough "research" to justify FGM in girls. If this is true, then our battle is already won, and we simply need to stay the course.

      On the contrary; quibbling with "science" and "research" is what holds us back because it lends credibility to the maxim that morals and ethics are decided by "research."

      The research needs to be repudiated for its own sake; restoring credibility in science and research and ridding it of corruption is a noble task in its own right.

      And, actually, the claims of "benefit" have actually all been refuted. The trend of opinion on routine male circumcision is overwhelmingly negative in industrialized nations. No respected medical board in the world endorses circumcision for infants, not even in the name of HIV prevention. They must all point to the risks, and they must all state that there is no convincing evidence that the benefits outweigh these risks. To do otherwise would be to take an unfounded position against the best medical authorities of the West. The AAP is about to get spanked by medical organizations in Europe for releasing the out-of-line claim that the "benefits outweigh the risks." (It must also be pointed out that in spite of it all, the AAP never actually endorsed infant circumcision; they stopped short because the so-called "benefits" were not enough, from their own admission.)

      The "benefits" are actually easily repudiated.

      But we should never give in to the idea that "research" can trump basic human rights.

      It doesn't work for girls, and the same applies to boys.

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    2. Joseph, I believe you've achieved a maturity in your thinking that not many can appreciate. You will find it increasingly difficult to converse with people, who will find your remarks too subtle to make sense.

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    3. Hi Joseph - it is not that I missed the point. In fact, I agree with you 100% in principle. Your blog is one of my favorite reads in the intactivist community.

      In the "real world" (meaning when I talk amongst Americans in real life or on Twitter), the ethical argument holds no weight at all. Parents look to Wikipedia and the AAP and conclude that there isn't medical evidence to support our side of things. Study after study on our side, however true and correct it may be, is not good enough to correct the pro-circumcision propaganda on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a pretty decent litmus test for the ability of evidence to convince the wider American medical community.

      Multiple penile sensitivity studies have been rejected by Wikipedia on various grounds. The Bollinger study carries no weight -- and if Jake W is even half right, it's a crap study.

      I have tried more than once to change the circumcision article on Wikipedia to cover the ethical side (akin to the FGM article over there) rather than being a "medical" article subject to MED:RS. They won't hear of it.

      So what I'm saying is that while it is 100% correct that the ethical argument should be enough, it just plain doesn't work. Circumcision is 100% medicalized in the US so only medical evidence will change the minds of those who think of it as a medical procedure. I'm coming from a practical viewpoint. I am thoroughly disgusted and frustrated that our evidence isn't good enough to correct Wikipedia.

      So please Tom Riddle give me a break. It's not that I can't appreciate subtlety, but it's that I'm approaching the issue from a different perspective.

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    4. Ghost Orchid,

      I'm afraid your comments are actually telling of your inability to grasp what I'm trying to say in this post. And it's telling of your ignorance of other aspects of this movement.

      In the "real world," the ethical argument is applied only to FGM, and, if Johnsdotter is correct, it is affecting the outcome of "research" that says FGM has devastating consequences for women.

      "Researchers" and "scientists" want to confirm with their "research" that FGM is horrible and catastrophic, but Johnsdotter is calling real scientific analysts to the table, and questioning the logical fallacy of depending on "research" to determine the acceptability or rejectability of a practice, as her research is showing that FGM isn't as bad as activists would like to say it is.

      With MGM, "researchers" and "scientists" want to confirm with their "studies" that MGM is "not so horrible," and that perhaps it even enhances sexual performance, not to mention the so-called "medical benefits." They rely on the dubious premise that "if studies show benefit and sexual improvement, then it's OK to force it on minors."

      The reason the ethical argument "holds no weight" is precisely because people have been sold on this idea that "if the studies say it's harmless, perhaps even beneficial, then it's acceptable to do to children." (Which, for many, the drive to circumcise their children was already there, but they were looking for an intelligent-sounding reason, especially today, where circumcision is slowly, but surely, falling out of favor.)

      You miss the crux of my argument in this post; and that is that, if parents, doctors, etc. argue that MGM is acceptable because they read about all these positive "studies" and "research" on Scientific Journals and on the information battleground that is Wikipedia, then they must also accept the idea that FGM could be justified under the same premise.

      This idea horrifies advocates of MGM, which is why they must create two separate standards, as I've shown in my post.

      "Ethics" for women, and "research" for men.

      This is why they fight so much to "keep them separate."

      Johnsdotter is closing the gap. If it could be argued with "research" that it is justifiable to forcibly mutilate the genitals of boys, then the same could one day apply to girls.

      Are American parents and doctors ready to accept this?

      Of course the ethical argument holds no weight; people want to believe that it can all be decided by "studies."

      Johnsdotter is sending a wake-up call.

      And instead of contributing to people's delusion, as you seem to think we must do, we need to help wake them up.

      If we open people's eyes to this logical fallacy, then the "research" argument falls apart.

      If they accept that it is merely a matter of "what the research says," then parents and doctors must be ready to accept the same for FGM.

      I don't think American doctors and parents are ready to do that.

      They would never, under any circumstances, accept FGM. There would never be enough "research" that would cause them to do this.

      Delete
    5. To continue with other subjects you touched upon:

      "Parents look to Wikipedia and the AAP and conclude that there isn't medical evidence to support our side of things."

      We must zoom out and take a look at what's happening here.

      Three things are being mentioned here that are all distinctly different and separate, like cheese and chalk; parents, Wikipedia and the AAP.

      The majority of parents are naive and have never been to medical school, and thus have no capacity to discern "research." Thus they depend on outside sources to formulate their opinion, ergo medical organizations, which are trade organizations for medical professionals, and open forums such as Wikipedia, which is a medium where anybody with a keyboard can edit, and where the opinion of the technologically savvy, but not necessarily scientifically knowledgeable, dominate.

      American parents are being given the "choice" to circumcise their sons, but the operation is ultimately administered by medical professionals who do not want to be responsible, and thus make parents sign a release form.

      I'm not even sure why Wikipedia is being mentioned here, as it is nothing more than a hodge-podge of opinions of those who dominate its pages. Are you seriously bringing up Wikipedia to the level of a position statement of a medical professional organization such as the AAP?

      "Study after study on our side, however true and correct it may be, is not good enough to correct the pro-circumcision propaganda on Wikipedia."

      The opinions of those at Wikipedia are relevant only if we accept the premise that studies are the end-all, be-all of whether or not circumcision is justified in healthy, non-consenting minors.

      You are almost getting it though; here, it should be clear to you that those at Wikipedia are interested in mentioning only the research which supports their pro-circumcision bias.

      It is similar to how Hussein, in Johnsdotter's case, believes her findings should not see the light of day, because they don't jive with his personal beliefs that FGM is horrible and should be stopped.

      "Study after study" may not convince anyone, except those seeking to justify their position.

      And that is the crux of my post; using "research" to support a position is fallacious because one day the research may not support us, and it leaves the door open to the corruption of scientific values.

      "Wikipedia is a pretty decent litmus test for the ability of evidence to convince the wider American medical community."

      I quite disagree with this statement.

      Wikipedia does not represent the "wider American community,"

      All it reflects is the bias of self-serving editors at Wikipedia.

      True, many have come to trust Wikipedia for all their answers, but I think that is a slightly different and bigger problem that's outside of the scope of our movement.

      "Multiple penile sensitivity studies have been rejected by Wikipedia on various grounds."

      Again, I'm not exactly sure why the rejection or acceptance of research by those at Wikipedia matters. What exactly are they? Are they a scientific journal of any actual importance?

      "The Bollinger study carries no weight -- and if Jake W is even half right, it's a crap study."

      Most research that shows circumcision is detrimental carries no weight.

      In my post, I argue that research that disagrees with activists' agendas carries no weight.

      But I ask, and Johnsdotter asks; should it?

      "I have tried more than once to change the circumcision article on Wikipedia to cover the ethical side (akin to the FGM article over there) rather than being a "medical" article subject to MED:RS. They won't hear of it."

      Again, Wikipedia is its own special problem. It's not exactly a peer-reviewed journal and completely subject to dominant editors and their opinions.

      Our movement's progress can't be measured by what computer geeks at Wikipedia have to say.

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    6. "So what I'm saying is that while it is 100% correct that the ethical argument should be enough, it just plain doesn't work."

      For male circumcision, because you, and others, accept the idea that the moral acceptability can be determined by "research."

      Johnsdotter is showing, with her research, and with others' reaction to it, that dependence on "research" to determine the moral justification of a practice is a mistake.

      Again, rather than perpetuate this myth, we must follow Johnsdotter's example and challenge this idea.

      We're not going to get anywhere with "research," because it could go in either direction, and advocates of a practice are only going to accept or reject what they want anyway. We need to start getting people to look outside the box. Use Johnsdotter's arguments.

      If "research" is enough to justify male circumcision, then the same is also true for female circumcision. Are people ready to accept this?

      If ethics stand alone regardless of "research" for FGM, then the same is also true for MGM.

      We mustn't waver, and stay the course.

      Playing the "research" game is going to get you nowhere; Wikipedia should be proof to you of this.

      "Circumcision is 100% medicalized in the US so only medical evidence will change the minds of those who think of it as a medical procedure."

      That is, if they think the evidence is legitimate and don't outright dismiss it like Hussein in Johnsdotter's case, because he would rather believe what is convenient.

      "Research" is a dead end trap. Do you not see this?

      You ARE aware that the medical evidence, as it stands today, has been thoroughly refuted?

      That no medical organization has found it to be sufficient to endorse the practice of male circumcision, in or outside of the US?

      Not even the AAP?

      The medical evidence is already stacked against the forced genital mutilation of minors.

      Why haven't the minds of American doctors been changed?

      "I'm coming from a practical viewpoint."

      Please consider that your viewpoint may in fact be myopic.

      1. People believe what they want to believe (see Hussein)
      2. Doctors are not going to validate "research" that will cost them a hefty yearly stipend.
      3. Male circumcision may be a violation of basic human rights, but what if some of the research actually does show that it is not as catastrophic? And perhaps even beneficial? What then?

      "I am thoroughly disgusted and frustrated that our evidence isn't good enough to correct Wikipedia."

      I am sad that you see Wikipedia as any valid barometer of the progress of our movement.

      "So please Tom Riddle give me a break. It's not that I can't appreciate subtlety, but it's that I'm approaching the issue from a different perspective."

      A rather limited one.

      Think outside the box, Ghost Orchid.

      Fraudulent research needs to be refuted for its own sake. And then, not all of it may be fraudulent.

      You may never convince doctors that the evidence stands against them. But then, why should anyone have to? And what if there may be evidence that circumcision does offer some benefit? Would your opinion that it's a violation of basic human rights change?

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    7. So three different objectives exist:

      Parents are under the delusion that circumcision is this "choice" they can make for their children.

      Doctors are fraudulently feeding parents this idea using so-called "research."

      And there is a problem with the way research is conducted and published.

      In all actuality, all medical organizations, in and outside of the United States, recognize that the existing body of evidence does not support endorsing male infant circumcision.

      Even in their last policy statement, despite the claim that "the benefits outweigh the risks," they conclude that "the benefits are not enough to recommend circumcision.

      I reiterate; medical professionals at the AAP could not use the latest body of "scientific research" to endorse the practice of infant circumcision.

      But parents, most of whom lack the ability to discern scientific research, are being asked to weigh this same body of evidence.

      The problem is not the "research," as actually, it is in our favor.

      The problem is American doctors abusing their positions of power to take advantage of naive parents and their children.

      Wikipedia is a problem because their articles are in direct conflict with the positions of the most prestigious medical organizations in the world.

      Self-serving Wikipedia editors with agendas are a separate problem that I believe is outside of the scope of the Intactivist movement.

      So to get back;

      1. Parents need to be made aware of the fact that they're being asked to make a "choice" based on information that couldn't convince major medical organizations to endorse circumcision.

      2. Doctors and their trade organizations need to be held accountable and brought to task for pretending like they can just shirk their responsibilities on naive parents.

      3. Something needs to be done about political agendas dominating scientific research and its publication. This would take care of other problems, such as Wikipedia.

      But 4., and this is important, we should not lend credibility to the idea that the moral justification or moral reprehension of a practice is decided by the outcome of some "study."

      It is mistaken.

      Johnsdotter sets the perfect example.

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  2. Hi Joseph - I appreciate this discussion so without dragging it out too much further, let me say a few things. I feel things are a wee bit condescending (myopic, subtle, etc.) ...but let's consider that I'm not entirely crazy or stupid for a second.

    I'm really not disagreeing with anything you say. In fact, I too believe that no amount of research or evidence would justify circumcision. Nor would it any form of FGM. I am quite happy to ignore the research altogether. But...

    I was trying to convince my sister in law & husband to leave their son intact. They did so but the father really wanted circ. The boy ended up with a UTI and their doc blamed being intact; the father wanted circ after all. I'm really not sure what they ended up doing. Nobody blames feces in the urethra (test showed fecal bacteria was the cause)---heck many times our (intact) kids had diaper explosions and we put them in the bath since there's no way to wipe that. A less diligent parent may not take the extra step. So the boy might lose his foreskin because his parents are "lazy". That pisses me off. And the father is pissed at me for convincing them to do something "unhealthy" for the child (leaving him intact).

    So this is an example of medicalization of circ and "research" going against me. My SIL and the father aren't all that interested in the ethical argument. What is your suggestion here?

    You claim that the pro-circ medical evidence has been "thoroughly refuted". If that's the case why aren't there "reliable secondary studies" that we can use to change Wikipedia? To be honest, I think that Morris and the circumfetishists and the US circumcision medical industry has stacked the cards against us. I don't think this evidence exists to the degree necessary to convince the American medical community. Even while the various non-US medical organizations around the world soundly reject circumcision, they all site various studies showing that circ has no effect on sexual function (a dubious claim, indeed).

    I know you don't see any value in Wikipedia, but that's where people go these days for information. They're probably not going to your blog or mine. To me, it's of utmost important to change it. Furthermore, virtually every single parenting and medical information website (webmd, parents.com, parenting, mayo clinic, etc. etc.) has absolute crap information about circumcision. I've never seen an American medical website discussing foreskin function. To Americans, it's simply a tiny disease-riddled vestigal flap of useless skin.

    It's quite possible I'm doing a bad job of articulating my point. And I know you think I'm missing your point. But I just haven't had luck convincing people with the non-medical approach to intactivism. These people "won't believe my facts" or "Wikipedia says foreskin causes all these health problems, better to get rid of it". So again, it's the medical benefits that justify the ethics of circumcision for these people.

    Of course what you state here is correct. I think it's a great place to start the discussion and I do believe the ethical/human rights case is all that should be necessary.

    Your points in summary 1-4 above are fantastic. Every single one is part of the solution.

    I just can't shake the notion that focusing on ethics while everyone else is focusing on medical benefits is preventing intactivists from reaching a group of people obsessed with medical benefits. This is why I talk about research. Not because I personally find research necessary to justify leaving children intact in my own mind. But to convince others.

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    Replies
    1. "So this is an example of medicalization of circ and "research" going against me. My SIL and the father aren't all that interested in the ethical argument. What is your suggestion here?"

      This is not so much an example of the medicalization of circ and the "research" going against you, as much as it sounds like it's your relative is looking for reasons to circ, and is interested in neither ethics nor research. (The research shows that UTIs are rare and easily treated with anti-biotics. No medical organization finds the evidence concerning circumcision and UTIs compelling enough to endorse the practice of infant circumcision to prevent them.)

      I'm not sure what I'd suggest with relatives who are neither interested in ethics or research, but in circumcising Jr. at all costs.

      The fault is still the same; doctors capitalizing from the false sense of entitlement they stoke in parents. Rather than blame parents, as I point out in another post, it's doctors who need to be held accountable.

      We shouldn't have to be conjuring up "research" to justify our cause, but the fact is that UTIs is not a very good excuse, even with the present literature.

      "You claim that the pro-circ medical evidence has been "thoroughly refuted". If that's the case why aren't there "reliable secondary studies" that we can use to change Wikipedia?"

      Whoa, whoa, whoa, there. You are making the fallacious argument that one thing necessarily equals the other.

      The reason you can't change Wikipedia is because there are dedicated pro-circumcision gatekeepers that will not allow this change, not necessarily because the necessary evidence does not exist.

      This is what I mean by ignorant and myopic.

      Sorry, but there is still a lot you can't seem to grasp.

      "To be honest, I think that Morris and the circumfetishists and the US circumcision medical industry has stacked the cards against us."

      Please enlighten me as to who this Morris person is, what his qualifications are, and why his word means anything. Are you aware that the Royal Australasian College of Physicians has dissociated itself with Morris? You are giving him far more credit than he is entitled to.

      I will keep saying it; think outside the box. While the American medical industry clings to circumcision, the rest of the world has pretty much moved on.

      I will reiterate; not even the AAP is able to endorse the practice of infant circumcision given the current medical literature.

      The trend of opinion on routine male circumcision is overwhelmingly negative in industrialized nations. No respected medical board in the world endorses circumcision for infants, not even in the name of HIV prevention. They must all point to the risks, and they must all state that there is no convincing evidence that the benefits outweigh these risks. To do otherwise would be to take an unfounded position against the best medical authorities of the West.

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    2. "I don't think this evidence exists to the degree necessary to convince the American medical community."

      "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding."
      ~Upton Sinclair

      The evidence exists. That the American medical community refuses to acknowledge it, insisting, instead, on "evidence" which is more convenient" does not change this fact.

      Again, we need to let go of the idea that we can argue the ethics of forcibly mutilating the genitals of a healthy, non-consenting individual with "research." Giving credibility to this idea only strengthens the will of those seeking to furnish the "evidence" that circumcision is "harmless and beneficial."

      "Even while the various non-US medical organizations around the world soundly reject circumcision, they all site various studies showing that circ has no effect on sexual function (a dubious claim, indeed)."

      The same evidence that US medical organizations reject or outright ignore.

      Johnsdotter is showing us that moral arguments stand on their own; FGM is the perfect example. Through her findings, the notion that the justification or condemnation of a practice depends on the outcome of some "study" is challenged.

      A challenge American medical institutions, and medical institutions around the world can no longer ignore.

      That is, unless they're ready to welcome the circumcision of girls based on this same principle. (Studies are showing that FGM is not as harmful as thought, and that it may even ward off disease.)

      "I know you don't see any value in Wikipedia, but that's where people go these days for information."

      Speak for yourself there.

      In my experience, parents seek the advice of other parents on parenting forums and groups on Facebook. A rather different challenge in itself.

      "They're probably not going to your blog or mine."

      Again, speak for yourself.

      My stats indicate I'm visited rather well, thank you very much.

      "To me, it's of utmost important to change it."

      I wish you luck in your endeavor.

      "Furthermore, virtually every single parenting and medical information website (webmd, parents.com, parenting, mayo clinic, etc. etc.) has absolute crap information about circumcision."

      Though this may be true, there are also a lot more groups dedicated to refuting these websites, and disseminating correct information, such as the WHOLE Network, Peaceful Parenting, Intact America and others. And judging from their likes on Facebook, they're actually pretty well referenced.

      "I've never seen an American medical website discussing foreskin function."

      Actually, there are more and more websites correcting their information. For example, the AAP now says in their pamphlets that early foreskin retraction can cause harm to the child. May I ask, how many other policy statements from American medical organizations are you familiar with?

      "To Americans, it's simply a tiny disease-riddled vestigal flap of useless skin."

      Well, maybe to SOME Americans. More and more Americans are waking up to factual information.

      CDC stats indicate that infant circumcision has been a continuous downward trend beginning in the 70's. It was at approx. 90% then, and it's at approx. 56% now, and falling.

      "It's quite possible I'm doing a bad job of articulating my point."

      You are free to elaborate as long as you wish.

      Take your time.

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    3. "And I know you think I'm missing your point. But I just haven't had luck convincing people with the non-medical approach to intactivism."

      Perhaps it may be due to the exact same reason you mention above? (Perhaps you have trouble articulating your point?)

      Talk to parents against circumcision on Facebook. They will tell you they've had much success.

      "These people "won't believe my facts" or "Wikipedia says foreskin causes all these health problems, better to get rid of it".

      Maybe it's the people you're talking to?

      The people I talk to are careful not to mention Wikipedia. That is, unless they wish to embarrass themselves.

      Because I will set them straight.

      "So again, it's the medical benefits that justify the ethics of circumcision for these people."

      And again, it is because they get us to play their "research makes right" game.

      Instead of engaging them in their little game, challenge their notion that "medical benefits justify the ethics."

      Show them Johnsdotter and the research I mention in this blog post.

      Challenge them on their own premises; would they approve of female circumcision if it were scientifically proven to be "harmless?" Or that it "protects from disease?"

      And stick to the argument.

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    4. "Of course what you state here is correct. I think it's a great place to start the discussion and I do believe the ethical/human rights case is all that should be necessary."

      It is either true for both sexes, or not true at all.

      Consider that perhaps the reason why you do not have much success may be simply because you simply need more practice in making your argument.

      These are solid arguments that, to date, at least in my case, no one has been able to refute.

      "Your points in summary 1-4 above are fantastic. Every single one is part of the solution."

      Thanks.

      "I just can't shake the notion that focusing on ethics while everyone else is focusing on medical benefits is preventing intactivists from reaching a group of people obsessed with medical benefits."

      To me it's the opposite; I believe too many intactivists are busy trying to "disprove" pro-circs with "research," and I think this is wasting too much time and effort.

      Now, that's not to say that bad research doesn't need to be refuted, because I'm not saying that.

      Bad research needs to be refuted because it's bad research and it taints the credibility of the scientific method.

      But I think in all their refuting, intactivists seem to be forgetting that our moral argument stands on its own.

      I believe intactivists fail because they give in to the mistaken idea that the acceptability of a procedure rides on the outcome of "research."

      Once again, Johnsdotter provides an inignorable example of why this line of thinking is dangerous, fallacious and wrong.

      "This is why I talk about research. Not because I personally find research necessary to justify leaving children intact in my own mind. But to convince others."

      I have asked you before, but you either seem to have failed to see the question, or are intentionally evading it.

      There is not a doubt in my mind that the "scientific research" regarding circumcision has been hijacked by people with a pro-circumcision agenda. It is my personal view that scientific scrutiny would reveal that most of what is out there is grossly exaggerated and/or completely fabricated by circumcision advocates to support their own view that all males should be circumcised.

      But, what would you do in the hypothetical situation that this were all proven true?

      Consider this hypothetical reality; the research all shows that the "benefits" of circumcision are real.

      Do you simply give up? Because those challenging you with the "research" game have won?

      Or do you persist?

      Please answer this question, as I'm curious to know what you would do.

      I know what I would do; I would be like Johnsdotter. I would acknowledge research that shows circumcision is "harmless," even "beneficial," but would still argue that the principle of taking a knife and cutting off part of the genitals of a healthy, non-consenting person is still wrong.

      I wouldn't want to be like Hussein, denying research, and arguing that results that do not coincide with my personal convictions should not see the light of day.

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    5. One of my friends who is reading this conversation contacted me privately and we talked about the possibilities of a few things being conflated here.

      Remember that in this blog post, I address specifically the premise challenged by Johnsdotter, that whether a practice is ethical or not depends on the outcome of some "study."

      This is the underlying premise by which "research" is written in support of circumcision, and whereby American medical organizations try to inch closer to a recommendation, and whereby parents are led to believe that they are entitled to, even compelled to make, some sort of "choice."

      Challenge this de facto rule and the entire argument falls apart; the so-called "research" suddenly seems lackluster.

      Researchers with integrity like Johnsdotter are challenging this premise, making people at the WHO, and anti-FGM (but pro-circ) activists squirm.

      Until this idea is toppled, yes, we have our work cut out for us, to coin a phrase.

      Until ethics are recognized for both sexes, parents ought to be enlightened to facts their doctors are not informing them about, and I agree. But educating parents is, at least in my view, a bit beyond the scope of this article, which addresses a slightly bigger problem.

      The way I see it, it's not a matter of refuting research; the current body of medical literature is actually clear, and there is much misinformation being circulated by doctors and parental pundits alike. It's a matter of disseminating correct information and educating parents of the facts.

      It is no scientific secret that "phimosis" is over-diagnosed in children, that doctors are mistakenly telling parents to forcibly retract their childrens' foreskins "for cleaning," that circumcision prevents UTIs etc.

      In this sense there is no "refutation" going on; simply dissemination of the facts which are already scientifically confirmed.

      Believe it or not, scientific literature is already on our side.

      American doctors continue to take advantage of parental naivete, however, because nobody is taking them to task. Those days are drawing to a close however, as bodies against circumcision single them out and challenge them. (See Bloodstained Men, demonstrations at AAP and ACOG trade shows, etc.)

      But we shouldn't rest on our laurels; the premise addressed in this blog post needs to be challenged.

      Consider Johnsdotter's warning.

      Even if the research showed circumcision to be harmless (it is actually irrefutable that circumcision removes thousands of nerve endings and that it permanently alters the mechanics of the penis) even if it is shown to prevent disease (circumcision cannot immunize the body against a single pathogen, and there is not a single scientist or researcher that can deny this fact), it would still be morally reprehensible to take a healthy, non-consenting individual and cut off a healthy, normal part of his genitals, especially since there are better, more effective, less invasive ways to prevent argued diseases.

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    6. "I'm not sure what I'd suggest with relatives who are neither interested in ethics or research, but in circumcising Jr. at all costs."

      What you have here is scared parents who see their baby in the hospital with a high fever (fearing death) and looking for something to blame. They will blame the thing that the doctor told them was the reason for their son's condition. Statements like UTIs are easily treated are not interesting to them.

      "My stats indicate I'm visited rather well, thank you very much."

      Well your blog is fantastic, so I'm not surprised. But I'm not going to believe that the average American is going to joseph4gi.blogspot.com before Wikipedia to look up info.

      Many people do find info on social networks, but they also look to Wikipedia, parents.com, webmd, and what to expect. I won't agree with you that these sources aren't important. Folks will say "well if you're right, why isn't the info in these 'authoritative' sources?"

      "Do you simply give up? Because those challenging you with the "research" game have won?"

      No, I would not give up.

      When I first started doing this intactivist thing, I believed that the comparison to FGM was one of the most compelling reasons against male circ. Many intactivists recoil from any comparisons to FGM. Many in the anti-FGM community don't appreciate it either. I backed off from this position. I still do believe it is the most compelling and basically that you are right: if male circ is OK then it must be OK if there were some evidence that some form of FGM had medical benefits for girls. And unfortunately for the anti-FGM movement, some of this evidence does exist (UTIs, HIV) there are goals to medicalize it.

      My wife is not an intactivist and is the type who doesn't see a compelling need to fight society as I do. She told me that she believes comparisons to FGM will only turn people off. She said that the instant I bring up any comparisons (no matter how good they are such as the analogous Sunat, female prepuce removal) that people would immediately shut down and not hear my arguments. She said this is why I should never use this argument. Many female intactivists in the community have said exactly the same thing. My wife and these female intactivists said arguments should be made on their own without the need to compare to FGM. I personally believe this is the only way we'll win so my core belief is similar to yours...

      I'm sure you have the idea now that I'm somewhat incompetent as a debater. I don't believe this is the case. I do tend to argue the male circ issue from all sides (medical & ethical). Sticking to ethical is much easier to prove and you can prove it without citing a gazillion sources. I want you to be right because I want an irrefutable way to prove our case.

      You can assume I'm a bad debater, but I am speaking from practical experience that there are many people who just don't buy the ethical-only argument---even when presented as you describe. These stubborn folks respond with "well FGM is completely different". Then you describe how it is not completely different. Well they just ignore you at that point. Because that's the point where you have to start talking about prepuces and clitoral hoods and people just shut down.

      The reasonable and rational people will be convinced right away! I'm talking about the stubborn folks. I want to be able to convince EVERYBODY and this is the entire reason for my dialog with you here. I will try your approach in earnest from now on as I really do prefer it. I know you think I must be some bad debater, etc. but I do believe there is some truth to the practical considerations I point out in using arguments of this type. Maybe I lack confidence, I suppose, for not move forward with what I truly believe is the most compelling argument because of what my wife and others have said about it. Maybe I should trust myself more. Thanks again for the discussion!

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    7. "What you have here is scared parents who see their baby in the hospital with a high fever (fearing death) and looking for something to blame. They will blame the thing that the doctor told them was the reason for their son's condition. Statements like UTIs are easily treated are not interesting to them."

      And like I said. The statement would come from the AAP, a trade group of professional doctors. It is simply a matter of fact that all the "research" concerning circumcision as a way to prevent UTIs is considered flawed and inconclusive by the most prestigious medical organizations in the world.

      If parents will not listen to this, then here is proof that merely "refuting studies" is not going to make a difference.

      "Well your blog is fantastic, so I'm not surprised. But I'm not going to believe that the average American is going to joseph4gi.blogspot.com before Wikipedia to look up info."

      I'm not going to believe that the average American trusts Wikipedia wholeheartedly and is the first place anyone looks. Furthermore, I'm not going to believe Wikipedia represents anything further than the opinion of self-interested computer geeks at Wikipedia.

      The underlying premise on which this is all based is the idea that ethics are decided by the outcome of "research."

      People like Johnsdotter are challenging this idea in high places, such as the WHO, and this is important because it pertains to the genital mutilation of both sexes.

      Destroy this idea, and the entire house of cards comes tumbling down.

      "Many people do find info on social networks, but they also look to Wikipedia, parents.com, webmd, and what to expect. I won't agree with you that these sources aren't important. Folks will say "well if you're right, why isn't the info in these 'authoritative' sources?""

      And you should respond "because the authoritative sources are failing to update their resources." And then point them in the right direction, giving them links to the research that is not found on Wikipedia, WebMD and whatnot.

      It's kind of the job of an intactivist to be pointing parents in the right direction, and be giving links to research that other "authoritative resources" fail to recognize.

      It's also the job of an intactivist to inform himself on what actually the "authoritative" resources are saying, so that you can use this to your advantage.

      How well-worded are you on what the AAP has to say? ACOG? AAFP? The BMA? RACP?

      The words of these trade organizations carry more weight than any parenting website, WebMD, even Wikipedia.

      Read their position statements; not a single one is able to use the current body of "research" to endorse male infant circumcision. Some, like the AAP, actually talk about forced retraction, UTIs etc.

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    8. "No, I would not give up."

      What would your argument be? I'm curious as to how you would do battle with "research" not being on your side.

      You have to consider Johnsdotter's challenge; "research" may be correct, and male circumcision may not be as catastrophic as we think.

      "When I first started doing this intactivist thing, I believed that the comparison to FGM was one of the most compelling reasons against male circ. Many intactivists recoil from any comparisons to FGM. Many in the anti-FGM community don't appreciate it either. I backed off from this position. I still do believe it is the most compelling and basically that you are right: if male circ is OK then it must be OK if there were some evidence that some form of FGM had medical benefits for girls. And unfortunately for the anti-FGM movement, some of this evidence does exist (UTIs, HIV) there are goals to medicalize it."

      And Johnsdotter is challenging this notion with her work. Once authorities are forced to recognize that this "research makes right" mantra is a dangerous sham, all this "research" that shows "benefits" will lose validity.

      "... My wife and these female intactivists said arguments should be made on their own without the need to compare to FGM. I personally believe this is the only way we'll win so my core belief is similar to yours..."

      I'm afraid they're rather different. My core belief is that MGM and FGM are precisely the same in principle. What you do to one sex, you do to the other. You can't have one without the other.

      It is a mistake to acquiescence to the idea that there should be a firewall between FGM and MGM. This forced wedge between the two is slowly, but surely, being broken down.

      Johnsdotter, as well as others, are posing a challenge that is irrefutable. Your friends will not be able to argue that these should be kept "separate" for long.

      "I'm sure you have the idea now that I'm somewhat incompetent as a debater. I don't believe this is the case."

      Rather than telling me this, prove yourself.

      "I do tend to argue the male circ issue from all sides (medical & ethical). Sticking to ethical is much easier to prove and you can prove it without citing a gazillion sources."

      It's also easy to argue "medical," as, the way things stand now, there is no medical case for circumcising healthy, non-consenting individuals. That battle is over and won.

      People seem to keep believing that it could be ethically permissible to mutilate the genitals of a healthy, non-consenting minor, if only they could produce the right number of "studies" which show "harmlessness" and "benefit."

      Here, Johnsdotter challenges that notion. This is important because she shines light on the corruption of science for political gain. If this notion is invalidated, then all arguments regarding "research" fall apart. "Wikipedia," "WebMD" etc. will all not have a leg to stand on. But it seems you're failing to see.

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    9. "I want you to be right because I want an irrefutable way to prove our case."

      I want to be right because I can effectively make an argument, not because I want people to believe in me.

      "You can assume I'm a bad debater, but I am speaking from practical experience that there are many people who just don't buy the ethical-only argument..."

      Um... Yeah. At this point, we're beginning to argue about arguing, and that is going to take us off on a tangent. Let's just stick to the argument, yes?

      So back to the point, you miss a lot of what I'm trying to say. In this blog post I highlight the fact that Johnsdotter is challenging the notion that "ethics" can be argued through "research." That if we destroy this idea, then the entire house of cards falls apart.

      You seem to be conflating challenging this idea with trying to convince parents, or others who are actually looking to circumcise their sons. That's slightly different than what I'm talking about in this blog post, which is to challenge a widely held belief which permeates not only parents and doctors, but the way "science" and "research" is conducted.

      To talk with parents, to talk with others who are trying to make a medical case for circumcising healthy children, you will most likely have to talk about scientific fact, and yes you will have to point them to research to argue the point that circumcision is not medically necessary, and that any "benefit" can already be easily achieved through non-surgical means. Furthermore, you will have to show them the proper care of an intact child, which will again, entail showing links and resources.

      But this is simply a part of educating.

      I've said it before, but I never said that bad science should not be countered. It should be countered because the truth needs to be known, and parents need to know facts. Parents need to know that there is actually no medical reason to mutilate the organs of a healthy child, that any "disease" circumcision is supposed to cure can already be easily treated, prevented etc.

      And this is not hard to do; the medicine is already on our side. The proof is in countries where circumcision is hardly practice, and where men are living long and healthy lives. The proof is in our own country, where 80% of adult males are already circumcised, and yet we have higher STD transmission rates than in Europe, where circumcision is rare.

      My blog post addresses something bigger; an idea that is accepted at a higher level. Challenge the "researchers," the "scientists," and the organizations that operate on this mantra, and the whole thing collapses. If we invalidate idea at top levels, the WHO, medical organizations etc., like Johnsdotter is doing, then it will only follow that doctors will have to stop approaching parents. Medical organizations will have to take a firm stance on circumcision, as they take with any other surgical procedure. Unless they want to embarrass themselves, Wikipedia, WebMD will have to update their information.

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    10. "These stubborn folks respond with "well FGM is completely different". Then you describe how it is not completely different. Well they just ignore you at that point. Because that's the point where you have to start talking about prepuces and clitoral hoods and people just shut down."

      You're a bit difficult to understand, or maybe you're just confused; it seems you're arguing that we have to counter "research," and that that's how people must be convinced.

      Johnsdotter is providing for us a good example of how the "research" idea could backfire. She provides scientific information that shows female genital cutting isn't as bad as anti-FGM activists believe.

      Now, it seems your telling me that people will shut down to medical science.

      So which is it?

      And, I ask again, what good is "more research" and the medical argument, when people are just going to listen to, and ignore what they want anyway?

      You're making my point; that this is not about ethics or research at all, but about people trying to find the "research" that confirms their long-held beliefs.

      Parents who already have it set in their minds that they want to circumcise their children are not going to listen to reason.

      So we have to hold those who have the duty to listen to reason accountable; doctors, researchers etc.

      This idea that "research" determines ethics leaves the door open to different kinds of corruption, as I describe in this blog. It corrupts science and its outcomes, which is a problem Johnsdotter is pointing out.

      "The reasonable and rational people will be convinced right away! I'm talking about the stubborn folks. I want to be able to convince EVERYBODY and this is the entire reason for my dialog with you here."

      Like your Wikipedia endeavor, I'm afraid you take on too daunting of a task here.

      You won't be able to convince everybody; there are going to be folks that are simply set in their ways and will not listen. You shouldn't waste time with them.

      When talking to your average American Joe, you have to pick your battles. Some will listen, others will not.

      But the scientific community are people who are supposed to be fountains of scientific knowledge, and not belief and opinion. People look to scientists and researchers because they are supposed to dispense the facts, untainted by personal conviction or political agenda.

      Is medical opinion, and in turn the opinions of parents etc., being shaped and molded by scientific data? Or by the opinions of a few "researchers" and "scientists" with the agenda to preserve circumcision?

      That is the question.

      "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

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    11. "I will try your approach in earnest from now on as I really do prefer it. I know you think I must be some bad debater, etc. but I do believe there is some truth to the practical considerations I point out in using arguments of this type."

      Try the approaches that are appropriate for the right situations. It is kind of hard to understand where you are coming from, and it seems you don't understand where I am coming from.

      Are you talking with parents who need factual information? Or are you talking with circumcision advocates who bandy about "research" to defend the idea that it is morally acceptable to mutilate the genitals of a healthy child?

      There are times, yes, when we must address medical fact. Somebody may be mistaken, and s/he may need to be corrected.

      Then, there are times when people want to make the argument that the ethics of cutting the genitals of a healthy, non-consenting child depend on the outcome of a "study." People at the highest levels of medical science and social policy.

      And that is what is being talked about in this blog post.

      "Maybe I lack confidence, I suppose, for not move forward with what I truly believe is the most compelling argument because of what my wife and others have said about it. Maybe I should trust myself more. Thanks again for the discussion!"

      Broaden your horizons. Sharpen your debate and argument skills. Become aware of logical fallacies and how people use them. Learn to challenge people using their own line of thinking. Learn how to make people catch themselves in their own snares. Learn how to ask people why they think the way they do.

      The bottom line is this; if people believe that it is "research" that decides the ethics of male circumcision, and that the "evidence says it is harmless, perhaps even beneficial," then they should be ready to change their minds regarding female circumcision, when the research, like Johnsdotter's, starts showing it's not so bad after all.

      The idea that the ethics/morals of the forced, non-medical genital cutting of a healthy, non-consenting individual is decided by the outcome of some "study" is flawed, and Johnsdotter's work couldn't provide us with a better example.

      This notion ought to be challenged, unless opponents of FGM are ready to welcome Johnsdotter's "research" and change their minds.

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    12. Hi Joseph,

      Let me bring this home because I think we're still on different planes.

      1. I have always believed in genital integrity for both sexes and I believe the comparison is the best argument we have (e.g. is there enough medical evidence that would justify FGM?). As the answer outside of FGM practitioners is universally 'no', then why male circ? My MGM/FGM blog entry is my most popular blog entry and it has been well received.

      2. I have backed away slightly from the argument in #1 in my intactivist discussions with others somewhat not because I don't believe in it, but because of the practical reasons that many recoil/shut down from it.

      3. I will revisit how I communicate the argument in #1 to make it more effective; your blog entry here will help with that.

      4. I am not 'obsessed with research' as you seem to think. But rather, I use the research as part of my overall argument. In particular, the ONLY reason why I am interested in the research aspect is because I would like to fix/change/correct Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the #1 result in Google when you search for "circumcision" and many consider it authoritative (I am aware that you don't). To be honest, I can't stand doing medical research because the full text of most articles you have to pay for and it's tedious and time consuming.

      5. My efforts have made improvement on the Wikipedia article (you think it's bad now? It was worse before). Others besides me have made great improvements as well.

      6. I do believe that there are certain areas of research where we can do better. Lots of that is due to corruption in the medical industry, bullying in the medical research community, and censureship of results.

      I hope this clears things up. I do respect you and your views very much. What we think as the most important battlegrounds for this fight seems to differ. And that's good. We can attack this problem from more than one angle. You can feel free to e-mail me anytime. Just tack a @yahoo.com on the end of my Twitter username or contact me on Twitter (see my blogger profile).

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  3. Ghost Orchid, I hope this restores your faith in Wikipedia...

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2257482/The-war-Wikipedia-fooled-years-Bicholim-Conflict-article-elaborate-4-500-word-hoax.html

    Best,

    Joseph4GI

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    Replies
    1. Nice! I've made it very clear to the folks there my opinion on their policy. Their policy is reliable secondary sources. As has been shown, their policy has actually the opposite intention. See: http://www.cochrane.org/news/blog/how-well-do-meta-analyses-disclose-conflicts-interests-underlying-research-studies . Most of the time, these "reliable secondary studies" are not vetted properly. So, what Wikipedia is doing, in effect, is ONLY accepting studies by special interests who are promoting a certain point of view. It's special interests who often fund these meta-studies. In the case of circumcision, the meta-studies are funded by circumcision advocates (circumcision device makers, circumfetishists, etc.). Primary studies (the ones with the actual facts) are avoided. Furthermore, editors aren't allowed to vet these "reliable secondary studies". So basically, NOBODY is vetting them. The peer review doesn't, and the Wiki editors aren't allowed to. So the result is they get to be cited in articles without any review at all. It's a lovely straw man they've built themselves over there!

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  4. Joseph, this is the best piece you have written, and one with which I wholeheartedly agree. I will address medical claims if people make them to me, but at the base, my "thesis" against circumcision is that if some men are happy to be circumcised, and some men are not, and if the proposed "benefits" of circumcision can be had in other ways, then it is up to the man attached to the penis to decide if those benefits move him enough to be circumcised.

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  5. Joseph,
    Though I agree with many of your points, I find that your overarching premise to be false and damaging to your argument.

    Your main point seem to me to be: "If ethics stand alone regardless of "research" for FGM, then the same is also true for MGM."

    I disagree with your premise that ethics stand alone regardless of research for FGM. I would go as far to say that this is a straw man argument, obviously flawed. Clearly, ethics do not stand alone in the argument against FGM. People (in general) are strongly against FGM because of a combination of ethical and empirical concerns.

    "if people believe that it is "research" that decides the ethics of male circumcision, and that the "evidence says it is harmless, perhaps even beneficial," then they should be ready to change their minds regarding female circumcision, when the research, like Johnsdotter's, starts showing it's not so bad after all."
    -I think that people would be willing to change their minds regarding FGM if there was enough strong empirical evidence to support its practice. However, in the specific case of Dr. Johnsdotter's research, I don't think many people would be willing to endorse the practice based on one study showing that it is "no so bad" (not even positive) vs. the wealth of empirical evidence showing the detriments of this procedure. Just because people are not willing to change their belief in FGM based on this one study does not mean people wouldn't be willing to change their belief if there was stronger scientific evidence.

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    1. "Your main point seem[s] to me to be: 'If ethics stand alone regardless of "research" for FGM, then the same is also true for MGM.'"

      Or at least *should* be.

      "I disagree with your premise that ethics stand alone regardless of research for FGM."

      It's not a "premise" as much as it is my opinion given my observation. And you are entitled to your own. Feel free to disagree with me all you want.

      "I would go as far to say that this is a straw man argument, obviously flawed."

      I find this statement to be rather fallacious. I am stating my opinion based on my own observations.

      "Clearly, ethics do not stand alone in the argument against FGM."

      Clearly? I beg to differ, and I think I have given good examples in my post.

      "People (in general) are strongly against FGM because of a combination of ethical and empirical concerns."

      I disagree. I posit that people were strongly against FGM first. I posit that with FGM, ethics came before "research." "Research" reporting the negative effects of FGM were highly influenced by "researchers" with a confirmation bias who weren't looking for positive effects.

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    2. In a perfect world, scientists and researchers are neutral, impartial, dispassionate observers with no agendas or conflicts of interest to hide. They merely observe, record, report their findings and encourage others to do the same.

      They are not merely interested individuals with a confirmation bias, reporting only data and findings that agree with their views, while suppressing that which is devastating to their case, and/or discourage others from analyzing it.

      But this isn't a perfect world.

      I posit that "researchers" of circumcision, male and female, have no real interest in medicine and/or public health, but an unstated interest in justifying, if not pushing their own ulterior views and agenda.

      I posit that if researchers reported dispassionately their findings, we would find the true implications of male and female circumcision. We would find how much complication male circumcision actually causes. We would find precisely how many women are suffering from problems caused by FGM, how many, like males living with their circumcisions, are actually living happy, well-adjusted lives.

      I posit that the true negatives/positives of genital cutting of either sex are not known, because the issue of male and female circumcision is dominated by self-serving agendas and politics.

      That no one actually cares about the "medical benefits" or negative effects of the genital cutting of either sex inasmuch as it condemns or justifies a preferred/despised version of forced genital cutting.

      That the positives of male circumcision are exaggerated, while the negatives are suppressed by interested individuals, while the vice-versa is true for female circumcision.

      That in the case of human genital cutting, science doesn't govern ethics, but the other way around.

      That while male circumcision advocates would like to feign an interest in research and public healthy, those opposed to female circumcision will not admit any scientific conversation that places female genital cutting in a positive light, and vice-versa.

      That if the same "rigor" applied to male circumcision "research" were applied to female circumcision research, we would find that FGM isn't so bad. That if the negatives of MGM were not suppressed but accurately reported, that we would find there are more risks than interested individuals would like you to believe.

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    3. "I think that people would be willing to change their minds regarding FGM if there was enough strong empirical evidence to support its practice."

      And I disagree.

      I posit that the reason that "strong empirical evidence" exists for male circumcision, but not female, is because very passionate groups of people are busy exaggerating "benefits" for MGM, while suppressing negatives (see Brian Morris), while the opposite is true for FGM.

      Nobody wants to find positives for FGM because they already think it's a horrendous practice. Nobody wants to find negatives with MGM, because it is a moneymaker, because bad mouthing infant circumcision renders you worse than Hitler. While there is a flood of "research" for MGM, the same passion to experiment with FGM does not exist. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

      "However, in the specific case of Dr. Johnsdotter's research, I don't think many people would be willing to endorse the practice based on one study showing that it is "no so bad" (not even positive) vs. the wealth of empirical evidence showing the detriments of this procedure."

      And just who has written this "wealth of empirical evidence?" Why, instead of researching "negative effects," aren't there any "researchers" to see what "correlation" exists between FGM and the reduction of some disease?

      Observe the actions of Johnsdotter's critics; would that they would have their way, Johnsdotter's work would not be published "because it plays into the hands of those who support FGM." In other words censorship. This leads me to believe that there are people in high places making sure that only negative material gets published regarding FGM, and that positive material is criticized, if not suppressed.

      Observe the actions of Brian Morris. He actually commands legions of others who coincide with his view that the world's male population ought to be forcibly circumcised, to attempt to suppress research that contradicts his view. What am I to make of the "wealth of evidence" in favor of male circumcision? And the absence of evidence to the contrary?

      Instead of exerting time and effort in trying to secure the continuance of circumcision, why aren't "researchers" looking to find better solutions? Incidentally, instead of looking for better solutions, why are "researchers" bent on making circumcision THE solution?

      "Just because people are not willing to change their belief in FGM based on this one study does not mean people wouldn't be willing to change their belief if there was stronger scientific evidence."

      Jonsdotter is not the only example I cite. There are at least two papers that report a lower incidence of HIV in circumcised women. And yet, there is no team of "researchers" wanting to realize "randomized control trials" to see if FGM could "prevent HIV."

      I maintain, that it is people's belief and politics, not "scientific research," which dominates this issue.

      That people aren't interested in allowing science to shape their views, but rather, clothe their views in science to ascertain their acquiescence.

      Like creationists, for example.

      That this isn't about science and medicine at all.

      Science seeks to find newer, better ways to fight disease, not preserve religious blood rituals from the Stone Age.

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    4. It is my opinion that "strong scientific evidence" is not going to sway parties against FGM, or who are for MGM, because this really isn't about "science and research." This is about concealing ulterior motives and agendas with a feigned interest in public health.

      Male infant circumcision advocates talk an awful lot about "scientific research" and the "medical benefits of circumcision," and the "many gold-standard peer-reviewed papers" that supposedly "moved" them to their current position. When asked if they support FGM, the same advocates say that "the evidence for FGM is lacking," so they don't support it.

      I ask, would that the same body of evidence to support the same claims existed for FGM, would those who oppose FGM change their minds?

      I say "no."

      I find the fact that there is "a large body of evidence in favor of male circumcision" (which, by the way, no medical organization in the world has found sufficient enough to endorse infant circumcision...), but a "little scientific evidence for benefits in female circumcision" to be suspect, given the attitudes demonstrated by Johnsdottir's critics (a desire to suppress positive research regarding female circumcision), and in male circumcision advocates like Brian Morris (a desire to suppress negative research regarding male circumcision, to the point of fighting to keep it from being published).

      The current status of what male circumcision advocates and female circumcision opponents call "strong empirical evidence" is nothing more than a farce created by none other than themselves.

      I posit that with female circumcision, ethical concerns are placed before scientific research. The effect of these concerns, though well-meaning, has resulted in an exaggeration of "research" showing nothing but negatives, but the suppression of research which places female circumcision in a positive light.

      I posit that with male circumcision, it's quite the opposite; forcibly circumcising a boy poses an inescapable ethical problem that circumcision advocates would like to correct with "research."

      While with female circumcision, ethics effect the outcome of "research," leading people to manipulate it such that a negative outcome is always achieved, with male circumcision, the outcome of "research" is manipulated so as to justify, if not necessitate male circumcision.

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    5. SHOULD science decide whether a practice is ethical or not?

      Or are ethics, ethics regardless of scientific outcome?

      At least with male circumcision, circumcision advocates assert (correct me if I'm wrong?) the former.

      IF this is true, and that's a big IF, then I say, it only follows that, IF a similar body of "evidence" showed female circumcision were "not only harmless but also beneficial," then opponents of FGM should be ready to change their minds.

      I ask, in such a hypothetical scenario, would that change our views that forcibly circumcising a girl or woman is wrong?

      I posit, that with female circumcision, there would not ever be enough "research" or "evidence" that would ever justify forcibly doing so to a girl or woman; that there would be no question as to the violation of principle.

      That it's real easy to say "well there is so much evidence that says circumcision is a good thing, therefore ethically it's OK" because it's already an accepted practice, and that it's real easy to say "there is so much evidence that says female circumcision is a bad thing, and therefor a bad thing" because we already find the forced circumcision of girls and women to be horrendous practice.

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  6. SHOULD science decide whether a practice is ethical or not?

    Is the desire to make something ethically acceptable or ethically repugnant influencing scientific outcome?

    Even IF science found that genital cutting is "not that bad," and/or even "beneficial," would it be ethical to impose forcibly cutting off part of a non-consenting person's genitals?

    Or is whether what we forcibly do to others, ethically acceptable or ethically repugnant, completely governed by scientific outcome?

    These are the questions I invite the reader to consider.

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