Lessons From Cupid: Where BMI Goes Wrong

14 Feb
Today is Valentine’s Day and no, I’m not going to flash any food porn involving chocolates. But with Cupid hovering around lately, I couldn’t help but address the subject of BMI, Body Mass Index.
What if Cupid and his parents showed up in my office concerned about obesity? What would I say? Let’s assume for a moment, from the various images of him, that his BMI would be in fact high. For the record, BMI is simply a calculation of weight divided by height squared, used as a marker for obesity. It is not, as you have been lead to believe, a measure of body fatness or percent body fat.

How I Got Over*

12 Feb

I left the church when I was 16.

It was not a rational decision.

I guess I should explain.

I was born into a family of believers. My dad’s side of it was pretty lackadaisical, Christmas and Easter Christians. But my mom’s side was very devout. I had two great uncles who were preachers under the National Baptist Convention. One had a tiny congregation in a storefront in West Philly. (He and my great aunt ran a grocery store. The church didn’t bring in much.) The other was a scholarly sort who taught religion at some university. I went to Sunday School every Sunday of my young life,  meeting in the basement and then the annex of Union Baptist Church in Montclair, NJ. I memorized books of the bible. I listened to stories. I sort of cruised along as a young believer. I hated getting up early on Sunday, hated getting dressed up in those dresses and crinoline slips designed to slice open the backs of my thighs as I twitched in the pew. But church was church and Christ was Christ and that was that.

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The Appeal of Vaccine Rejectionism: It Flatters the Ignorant

10 Feb

Famous faces and matching T-shirts do not experts make.

One of the most attractive aspects of vaccine rejectionism, indeed of all “alternative” health, is that no particular knowledge is necessary to declare yourself an expert. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have even the most basic knowledge of science and statistics. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have any understanding at all of the complex fields of immunology or virology. Your personal experience qualifies you as an expert. Hence Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, two actors with no training of any kind in science, are touted by themselves and others as “experts” on vaccination.

As the paper The Persuasive Appeal of Alternative Medicine explains:

The person-centered experience is the ultimate verification and reigns supreme in alternative science… Alternative medicine makes no rigid separation between objective phenomena and subjective experience. Truth is experiential and is ultimately accessible to human perceptions… [O]bjective diagnostic or laboratory tests that discern what cannot be felt never replace human awareness… [A]lternative medicine, unlike the science component of biomedicine, does not marginalize or deny human experience; rather, it affirms patients’ real-life worlds. When illness (and, sometimes, biomedicine) threatens a patient’s capacity for self-knowledge and interpretation, alternative medicine reaffirms the reliability of his or her experience.

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Pseudofeminism, Gender Pay, and Skepticism

10 Feb

As a skeptic I’m used to asking for evidence behind claims, though sometimes—especially in areas surrounding social issues—criticizing arguments can raise thorny issues for skeptics.

I was recently reminded of this when I came across an interesting article by Jaymie Strecker on a Web site called The Floating Point Divide. It’s about the issue of the gender gap in pay and a book titled Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, published in 2003. The premise is that women don’t make as much as men because they don’t negotiate their salaries.

Strecker writes that “Reviewers drooled over the book’s potential to help women. The Ms. blog included it in their top 100 feminist nonfiction. In my field, computer science, Women Don’t Ask is recommended left and right — Geek Feminism, Grace Hopper Celebration, Anita Borg Institute. Valerie Aurora of LinuxChix even became so enraptured by the book that she ran a scholarship to help women buy it…. Parts of Women Don’t Ask wax very feminist. The authors genuinely want to help women get the money and power they deserve. They want women to be free.”

So what’s the problem?

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This Week’s Good News

8 Feb

I don’t know if anyone else is celebrating, but the last week or so has culminated into some pretty good news for the socially progressive crowd. In case you missed it, here is my account of the news.

On January 31, Planned Parenthood’s President, Cecile Richards, sent an email with the news that Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation had “announced that it will stop supporting lifesaving breast cancer screening for low-income and underserved women at Planned Parenthood health centers.” They cited “politically motivated groups and individuals” as the sources that had “undermine[d] women’s access to care.” It was profoundly disappointing and disturbing news. I wondered, as many people did, why a group whose mission is to “save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures” would want to cut off funding that went toward providing preventative care for low-income and underserved women.

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