Nothing frustrates me more than the fact that a woman shared this on Facebook

Empowering isn’t it, to be infantilized and then judged based on your shape, but it’s okay because you can feel superior to those skinny bitches and let’s not even talk about the fat bitches, but are you really fit enough to look good naked? What if not everyone thinks you look good naked? I guess you’ll just have to spend more time at the gym, because obviously that’s how you’re getting fit, not by any sort of manual labour because then you get gnarly hands and ruin your manicure and then you don’t look good anyway. Also don’t worry about your head because that’s not where everybody’s going to look anyway, and all that matters is how you look. You will always be fit and beautiful, so that is a totally legitimate thing to base your self worth on.

Nothing frustrates me more than the fact that a woman shared this on Facebook

I fixed that for you.


The Women’s Congressional Hearing (with apologies to Nellie McClung)

With apologies to the indomitable Nelly McClung


[Interior of congressional hearing chamber. Behind a large and impressive wooden table sit three middle aged women in well-tailored suits, hands neatly folded in front of them.]

CHAIRWOMAN: Welcome, all, to this House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the insurance coverage of erectile dysfunction medication and religious liberty. The chair recognizes the esteemed panel.

Today we are here to discuss the recent White House proposals regarding pharmaceutical coverage. The Obama administration wishes to force private insurance companies to provide coverage for erectile dysfunction medications. I’d like to ask the panel to provide an opening statement.

REV. CHASTITY: Thank you Ms. Chairwoman. The Obama administration has put a stranglehold on religious liberty in this country by forcing all Americans to accept practices antithetical to Christian doctrine – that is, that we should all pay for men in this country to be having recreational sex. The Bible clearly condemns sexual activity that is not for procreation – in Genesis 38:9-10, it stats “He spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring…What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight.”

These men are sinful, and the people of America should not be held financially captive by the lustful, wicked ways of the godless left wingers of this country. Jesus said, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We, as Christians, should not be forced by an overbearing government to fund mortal sins!

CHAIRWOMAN: Thank you, Reverend. I’d like to now ask the panel to comment on whether this medication could be seen to be medically necessary.

DR. PROSTATE: Oh, definitely not. Sexual activity is entirely optional. In fact, erectile dysfunction isn’t so much a medical condition as just a normal part of aging. Men have lived for centuries without drugs that allow them to have sex for purely recreational purposes and I certainly don’t see why they have suddenly been rendered unable of coping. Indeed, it seems that popular media portrayals of older men like Hugh Hefner as sexually active has lead to a move away from traditional values. There is really absolutely no medical reason why individuals would ever need to have sex beyond their child-raising years. It is excesses in the medical system like erectile dysfunction treatments that are sending health insurance costs skyrocketing.

I’d also like to preemptively counter the point that sometimes erectile dysfunction medication can be given for legitimate medical issues and say: the majority of erectile dysfunction drugs are given to people who want them for recreation, not people who need them. Sexually transmitted infections in elderly populations have been on the rise since the introduction of erectile dysfunction medications. Adding barriers to access will prevent people from being sexually active and prevent the spread of STIs. The best way to prevent erectile dysfunction is to abstain from sexual activity. Everybody wins and nobody needs to pay out of pocket for somebody else’s jollies.

CHAIRWOMAN: Thank you, Doctor. And now, could we have a final word from Senator McClung?

SEN. MCCLUNG: We have heard men speak out in support of the Obama administration’s proposed coverage, and although some may be well-spoken and seem capable, we must remember that men are ultimately weak at heart and easy to be persuaded into sexual activity by women and the media. Supporting the use of erectile dysfunction medications puts these vulnerable men at risk of being preyed upon by women, and promotes irresponsible usage of the medication. This could lead to promiscuity, STIs, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and other horrors that plague our modern society. If I may be so bold as to paraphrase the words of my great grandmother:

If men were all so intelligent as these representatives of the downtrodden sex seem to be it might not do any harm to allow them access to erectile dysfunction medication. But all men are not so intelligent. There is no use in allowing men to have Viagra. They wouldn’t use it. They would let the pills spoil and go to waste. Then again, some men would have sex too much…Giving men Viagra would unsettle the home….The modesty of our men, which we reverence, forbids us giving them Viagra access. Men’s place is in the workplace, not the bedroom..It may be that I am old-fashioned. I may be wrong. After all, men may be human. Perhaps the time may come when men will be responsible enough to have sex with women for reasons other than procreation–but in the meantime, be of good cheer. Advocate and Educate. [adapted from Nelly McClung, The Women’s Parliament]

[Thunderous applause erupts]

CHAIRWOMAN: Well said, Senator McClung. If there are no further opinions-

LONE MAN IN CROWD: Wait, don’t we get to-

CHAIRWOMAN: I’d like to thank the expert panel for their time and we will await the committee’s decision.

[The hearing chamber noisily clears out.]


If you have no idea what this is about, read here. If you are horrified that the words of a suffragette 99 years ago resonate today as much as they did then, SPEAK UP!

Acupuncturist claims cervical cancer is for prostitutes

Cross posted from Skeptic North

While doing some digging into the quackery of a local acupuncturist, I came across a sentiment that I found more than usually appalling. In her story of why she became an acupuncturist, she tells a melodramatic tale about a positive Pap smear test result that changed her life*. There’s all the usual makings of an natural health anecdote, with convoluted tales about her life being out of balance and her needing to take control of her own health – all pretty par for the course. However, what dropped my jaw was this paragraph:

My research about cervical cancer at the time told me it was very rare and that it occurred most often in women who had multiple sexual partners, who also had multiple sexual partners. In other words, the nurse said, it’s mainly a disease of prostitutes.
Well, I said, “That’s not me!”

Although my gut instinct was horror that she would imply that women with cervical cancer are prostitutes or they deserve their illness, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was simply recounting what this extraordinarily judgmental nurse had told her. Maybe she wasn’t actually implying that only whores** get cervical cancer as some sort of retribution for their immoral behaviour. (Though in my head I couldn’t help wonder if she also feels that AIDS is a “gay disease.”)
Or maybe she totally was. I watched her accompanying video, which basically repeats the information on the website for those of us too lazy to read.

So immediately I fell into research. And what I found out is that there’s a very specific profile of a person with cervical cancer. That person usually has many sexual partners. She’s very promiscuous. And her partners, in turn, also have very many different partners. What is really came down to was a description of a prostitute. And I knew that wasn’t me.

Considering this “advice” is coming from someone who is legally allowed to call themselves a doctor (of acupuncture) in the province of Alberta, I think these claims are worth examining.

  1. Cervical cancer is rare
  2. Cervical cancer happens to only very specific types of people.
  3. Promiscuity or prostitution is necessary to develop cervical cancer.

First though, a few notes on cervical cancer.


What is cervical cancer?

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects the uterus to the vagina. Cervical cancer occurs when some cells become abnormal and start to proliferate. However, not all abnormal cells will become cancer – many will die because they are too abnormal. Others will not be abnormal enough that they grow and divide out of control. The purpose of a Pap smear, where a doctor takes a sampling of cells from the cervix to be examined via microscope, is to detect these early abnormalities. Weird cells can happen for a ton of reasons, but when they do they are called dysplasia. Dysplasia ranges from “a little weird but will likely not cause issues” all the way to “not looking anything like they should and almost certain to become cancerous.” Most positive Pap tests are not actually cancer. The most common result is classified as Atypical Squamous Cells of Undetermined Significance (ASCUS). These cells only might be dysplastic and so they will ask you to come back in a few months for a repeat Pap before they do anything. However, screening for cervical cancer is extremely important, as it has few clear signs or symptoms (heavy periods and back pain could be anything or nothing) and without early detection has high rates of death. In 2004, the five year relative survival rate of Canadian women with cervical cancer as 74% – in other words, a quarter of women will die within 5 years of receiving a diagnosis of cervical cancer. Fortunately, this is a huge drop in mortality since the introduction of the Pap test, and the number continues to fall as provinces aggressively promote screening to groups of women who are less likely to get regular Paps.


Is cervical cancer rare?

There are many way to answer this question, but it’s easiest to just say… no. It’s not. Cervical cancer is the 3rd most common type of cancer worldwide, accounting for 10% of all cancers. In Canada, it is less common, ranking back in 12th, although it is still in the top three cancer diagnoses for women between the ages of 20-49. In 2011, there were approximately 1,300 new cases of cervical cancer in Canada, and 350 deaths. 1 in 150 women is expected to develop cervical cancer over a lifetime. In other words, cervical cancer is about as rare as some estimates of autism spectrum disorders.
In any case, although “rare” in the context of disease prevalence doesn’t have an official definition, Health Canada policy indicates it considers rare to be diseases that affect fewer than 1 in 1000 people. It’s also important to remember that Pap tests allow us to catch things before they become cervical cancer, and approximately 2% of all Pap tests are positive. Cervical cancer, then, is not rare.


Does cervical cancer only happen to certain types of people?

Cervical cancer only affects people who have cervices, so I suppose that’s a type.
What is implied by the “certain type” comment, however, is the association of cervical cancer with infection by sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV). Some types of HPV can infect the cells of the cervix and can cause the cells to behave oddly, which can send them down the path to becoming dysplastic or even cancerous. Of course, only promiscuous women and prostitutes get HPV, right?

Well, barring the outrageous slut shaming which I cannot even begin to discuss here, it’s important to note that 70% of all sexually active Canadians will exposed to HPV over a lifetime. 70%! Even condoms are not fully protective since HPV can spread via any skin-to-skin contact. Plus, HPV infection is almost entirely asymptomatic, and there is no general screening test to look for it. In other words, for most people, until you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, you have absolutely no way of knowing if you or your partner are positive for HPV. Only in a world of strict, puritanical monogamy is this a disease for prostitutes and the promiscuous, and given that 70% of women are exposed, I think it’s fair to say that such an expectation is profoundly unrealistic. Either that, or 70% of Canadian women are whores! What a charming sentiment.

Realistically, if you want to prevent cervical cancer, then you should be advocating for the use of the HPV vaccines, which protect against many types of aggressive HPV infection and is now approved for males, as well as females. Maybe, if there is enough uptake in the community, we can dramatically reduce the rates of cervical cancer so that it is a rare thing.


Do only promiscuous women develop cervical cancer?

The ridiculous assertion that cervical cancer only happens to “promiscuous” women works on the assumption that HPV is the only cause of cervical cancer. This is also not entirely true. Smoking, for example, doubles your risk of cervical cancer. Other things that put you at risk for cervical cancer include taking immunosuppressants (people with organ transplants or auto-immune diseases), the use of oral contraceptives, giving birth to many children, or having taken a synthetic estrogen called diethylstilbestrol to prevent miscarriage, or being the daughter of a woman who had taken diethylstilbestrol. There also may be a genetic component. And, of course, even if all of these happen through an HPV-mediated mechanism, you cannot control whether your partner has ever had other partners in the past (or may have them in the future).

On another level, this sort of attitude is profoundly damaging since it blames the individual with the disease. Women will have portions of their cervix removed, and may even be going through chemotherapy and radiation. They are facing the possibility of infertility. They are dealing with a potentially life threatening illness that they in no way invited into their body, particularly since there was no way for them to know the HPV status of their sexual partner(s), and furthermore, HPV is not necessarily the cause. To call them prostitutes simply for being sexually active is degrading, insulting, and incredibly cruel, to say nothing of being profoundly hypocritical.So, I guess we can say there is a type of person who doesn’t get cervical cancer: the type that never has sexual contact of any kind, never smokes, never requires an immunosuppressive drug, and isn’t born predisposed to it.

Even if we can blame HPV solely for the development of cervical cancer, to place blame squarely on the women who have it is to point a finger at just one piece in a larger puzzle. For the purposes of sexually transmitted infections, you are having sexual contact with every sexual partner your partner has ever had. A woman could be as chaste as they come until her traditional one-man-one-woman marriage and only have sex for procreation, and still contract HPV because her husband had sexual contact (with or without penetration, with or without protection!) with someone who was infected in the past.

Oh, that whore, having sex with her husband and having multiple children. When will she ever learn?


What’s her professional recommendation?

I continued my annual PAP tests for a few years after that. But since I no longer have a conventional medical doctor for many years now, I can say that I don’t need one. I don’t do PAP smears anymore. I don’t do anything that conjures up unnecessary fear. Instead I rely on what I know today, real preventive measures.

Yes, you eschew actual knowledge about your body because it’s scary. You hide from reality because it might hurt your feelings. I mean, you will almost certainly die if you do actually have untreated cervical cancer, but hey, at least you’ll die happy. Sorry, that’s not the word I was looking for. I believe what I was looking for was “in agony and far too soon.”

I sincerely hope nobody with cervical cancer ever has the misfortune of entering this woman’s office. Nobody deserves to die of cancer. If you can look into the eyes of a woman dying of cancer and tell her that she deserved it, well, let’s face it. You have bigger problems than false positive Pap smears.

Does not deserve this.


*I’ve had an abnormal pap test, and unlike Freak-out McMelodrama, I talked to my doctor about what it meant and why it wasn’t particularly concerning, but worth monitoring. It wasn’t a cancer scare, it was a “huh, that’s weird.” Maybe I’m just used to my body doing strange things, but I really can’t fathom using it as the impetus to quit my job and go to an unaccredited college to get a unrecognized 4 year TCMD (Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctorate) diploma for $40,000. If you’re worried about an abnormal Pap test, or just the potential to exposure to HPV and the risks of cervical cancer, talk to your family physician. And if they tell you that only prostitutes get HPV, find a new physician, and then talk to them.

**In case this is not perfectly clear, throughout the article, my use of the word “whore” is satirical and in no way passes judgement on the sexual activity of women. If you don’t know why you shouldn’t be calling women whores/prostitutes/sluts/tramps etc, check out this awesome video by a 13 year old girl who is better spoken and more informed than most 30 year olds.

Images from euthman and Offbeat Photography on flickr.

Something doesn’t add up (Girls can do math, right?)

So let me get this straight. As early as 13 years old, Canadian girls are outperforming boys in reading and math, and are as good at science.

When they graduate high school, they are more likely than men to go on to have a diploma, certificate or bachelor’s degree.

There are more women graduating from university annually than men.

And of those graduates, the only programs where men outnumber women are Architecture, Engineering and Related Degrees, and Mathematics, Computer and Information Sciences. There are more women than men with degrees in Agriculture, Physical and Life Sciences, Business, Education or Health.

And yet… and yet!

If you look at the hourly wages of permanent employees, Canadian women make an average of $19.94/hour while Canadian men make $23.97/hour! And if you say, well it’s unfair barganing practices, women can’t negotiate… then that should be controlled for by unionized jobs. Not the case: $24.01/hour for women while men make $25.55.

Given that the economic downturn was harder on men than women in terms of unemployment, helping the wage gap shrink, the mind boggles. I found an interesting bit of older information at Stats Can looking at the wage gap between women with and without children, which found that women without children earned 9% more than their counterparts with one child. “Aha!” you say, triumphantly as any good rhetorical puppet should. “It’s because they take a year off to have babies that sets them back in wages!”

Sadly, this is not the case, as the wage gap between the childless and mothers doesn’t begin until age 25, and if it were as simple as maternity leave, the gap would appear immediately. Interestingly, being more educated seems to exaggerate this gap.

Being good statisticians, they tried to elucidate why this gap might be there, and so they controlled for:
“age, years of education, work experience, marital status, full- or part-time status, union membership, employer size, family income (earnings from spouse and other family members as well as non-employment income), industry, occupation and management responsibilities…”
These factors taken out of the equation, there was still a statistically significant gap between childless women and women with children: 2% decrease with one child, and a 3% decrease for two.”

Is that it then? We tell our girls that they can be anything they want to be, we encourage them to do well in school and pursue the career of their choice. We tell them that they can have a family and a career – and then when they do, we punish them financially. Not because of how much experience or education they have, not because they’re part time, not because they enter lower paying industries. Just because they have children.

So, I guess it’s time to spread the word: tell your girls that they can be highly educated and have a high paying job… or they can have a family. And while we’re at it, tell your boys that they should be highly educated and have a family: They’ll make more money that way.

Hear me ramble in other media!

For those of you who like hearing what I have to say and yet are simultaneously tired of reading my long-winded text blocks, here’s some fancy new ways to get your fix:

Check out my Skepticamp talk on the history of the relationship between science and the media, and how we can navigate it to parse the truth from the hyperbole!

And now that you’ve heart all about the problems of media, take some time to hear the good stuff! Give Life, the Universe & Everything Else a gander – I’ll be on the panel occasionally, just like I am in the latest episode discussing “What’s the Harm?” in alternative medicine. We’re the top “New and Noteworthy” podcast on iTunes in Science & Medicine, and also in the top 25 of popular Science & Medicine podcasts as of right now!

And hey, if you really can’t live another day without reading an Orac-ian block of text, I’m also blogging for Skeptic North now, where I’ve already been trolled for my post on the evils of pox parties and the lack of informed consent in the anti-vax movement.

No Kids Allowed: Bigotry or practicality?

So I came across this article on ScienceDaily:

In a study published in the Indiana Law Review, Oliveri reviewed 10,000 housing advertisements from 10 major U.S. cities… Of the 10,000 ads she reviewed, she found that only five percent were potentially problematic or illegal.

The Federal Housing Act (FHA) prohibits housing advertisements from expressing preferences based on race, ethnicity, religion, or familial status. Even ads that mention no preference but give biographical information about the advertiser that includes race, ethnicity, religion, or familial status may violate the federal law.

… Oliveri said. “The overwhelming majority of ads that violate the Federal Housing Act discriminate on the basis of familial status, which is whether or not a potential tenant or roommate has children. Moreover, the vast majority of those who post discriminatory on-line advertisements for housing are placed by people seeking roommates…”

Oliveri thinks people in shared housing situations who are advertising for roommates should be exempt from FHA laws. She argues that preventing roommate-seekers from advertising biographical information about themselves or expressing such preferences for their desired roommate would disproportionately affect minority group members who want to differentiate themselves from the majority or who seek a roommate who is a member of a minority group.

What a ridiculous law. And what a ridiculously poorly worded article, especially since the title is “Online Housing Discrimination Primarily Done by Roommate-Seekers, Familial Status, Study Finds” and the fact that the lead researcher herself thinks it’s silly is imbedded several paragraphs down.

But seriously, who wrote this law? Having a roommate is like entering into a relationship: if you’re not compatible, it’s bound not to work out. If I’m a proud granola eating uber-feminist vegan, then maybe carnivorous Men’s Rights advocates should consider another arrangement. If I’m an outspoken atheist and my potential roommate is an evangelical young earth creationist (all sitcom potential aside), if I am outspoken enough about it to include it in my ad, I’m asking you to take that into consideration. If I don’t mention it, then it’s not a big deal. It’s no different than a profile on a dating website – you are simplifying your personality down to some quick and dirty facts in the hopes of attracting a compatible individual. It’s not discrimination: it’s saying “This is me. Can you deal with it?” Perhaps race/ethnicity/religion/marital status are irrelevant to that. Maybe not. Failing to be upfront about things that are important to your identity is only going to lead to pain and suffering in the end.

The marital status portion is even sillier. If I’m advertising for a roommate, that does not mean you and your family. Not you and your best friend and your cousin from out East. That means one person. If I’m saying explicitly in my ad: no kids, it means I don’t want to have to deal with kids. It’s my home, and although I respect your right to have children, that does not make them my problem unless I want them to be. People are allowed to say “No pets” for the same reason. If I’m allergic to pets or just really hate animals, I’m allowed to ask you not to bring them into my home.  If I’m a student studying long hours and I absolutely need quiet, or I’m offering to share a small space that truly cannot accommodate more than two people – then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say “no kids.”

Conversely, if someone listing an ad for a roommate, I think marital status is pertinent information. I would not feel comfortable renting a room in a house full of single men I did not know. I would feel much more safe, given a choice between the two, renting a room in the house of a married couple. These are, of course, broad brush strokes and subject to nuance, but I know the sort of lifestyle I have and would want to be living with people who had compatible lifestyles. If they have an 8 month old baby, that’s also pretty relevant information before I move in the door. In fact, if someone left this out of a roommate ad, I would instantly be wary and feel lied to. If you’re not being straight forward about who is living in the house, then what else are you hiding? “Oh, by the way, we have 6 kids” is worth noting up front just as much as “I’m a neat freak” or “I am a chain smoker” or “I have a tendency to crank Lady Gaga at 6 a.m. to pump me up every morning.”

Now, I don’t think that’s bigotry, but maybe someone could explain to me why I’m wrong?

Dear paternalistic asshole, fuck you.

So, there’s this:

In fact, the Saudis are protecting women and society by not permitting women to drive cars or move about freely.

Cars, freedom of movement and modern hotels are excellent tools to help women commit adultery and fornication. This may sound very strange to people in the West, but it is a hard fact of life.

Men are born hunters and that includes 84-yearold men like Hugh Hefner. Therefore, the restrictions on women by Saudis appear to be relevant.

I think it is not a wise policy to let the women roam freely in the jungles we are living in at this time.

I don’t think Wahabism or the Saudis are responsible for producing suicide bombers or terrorists. Islam absolutely forbids killing any innocent person of any religion, and taking your own life is also forbidden.

It appears the suicide bombers and terrorists are the products of injustices and the oppression of Muslims in many parts of the world, which lead young and ignorant men to commit horrible crimes, including the 9/11 tragedy.

The Holy Qur’an says: “And do not go near Zina (fornication). It is indeed a shameful and an evil path.” (Ch. 17; Ay32).

Anwar Sultan, Calgary

Wait wait wait. So when young men are oppressed, they commit horrible crimes and it’s totes not their fault guys, for serious. But oppressing young women is necessary. You know, for safety. Because if they drive, then they will be near fornication… somehow. And because men are hunters, they can’t be held responsible for just up and raping a woman, or committing adultery with a married woman. Because they’re oppressed, you see. So the only way to cure this horrible problem is with more oppression.

They see her rollin', they hatin'.

It must hurt to have to do these sorts of ridiculous yogic stretches to justify your asinine and contradictory beliefs.

Filler – so sue me!

So I know I’ve not posted anything in forever (since my first week of classes, as it turns out), but I just wanted to post a few quick things:

– As it turns out, being a medical student is rather time consuming. It’s not to say it’s quite as bad as some people seem to think it is, but I’m also living by myself, so keeping on top of feeding myself, doing yard work, cleaning house, etc. in addition to studying ends up eating up a lot of my time. So hence my lack of time to compose insightful, brilliant opuses of skepticism. Or you know, even the usual sort of thing I write.

– I don’t have TV anymore and I miss being able to watch Mythbusters. So I followed them all on Twitter. Tory was live-tweeting this Sunday’s episode where they were launching anvils into the air (via explosion, of course). Jealous, I tweeted:

I was maybe a little too excited when he tweeted back.

He made a very good point, and so I didn’t drop out. Yet. Tuition isn’t due until the end of September… so there is still time. Ha ha. Alternatively, I’m hoping they need a doctor on the set. I’d totally do it for free. I love science.

– I spent a lot of time this summer at the St. Norbert Farmer’s Market, and I’ve finally been annoyed enough by the various insane things being peddled there that I decided to blog about it. It’s a work in progress, but here’s some clues: negative ions, biofeedback subluxations, and raw diet. You would not believe how adamantly people buy into it. I actually unintentionally got into an argument about it with one of the customers of these people because they randomly came up to me and tried to convince me, too.

– I also have a lengthy piece on stem cells that I don’t know what to do with for the moment. It’s more educational than controversial – unfortunately but once again science demonstrates that there are no absolutes, and every answer has the caveat “…but it’s not quite that simple.”

– I have a scheduled, testable course lecture on CAM use in cancer coming up in October. It’s being given by the head of the local CAM institute, so I fully expect to have a plethora of blog material from it. It is our only scheduled CAM lecture, but fortunately we have a few vocal skeptics in the class, so it could be an interesting class.

– I am totally procrastinating on studying for my upcoming ominously looming midterm right now. I just thought you should know if you hadn’t figured it out.

Speaking of procrastinating, here's a picture of the grizzlies at the Calgary Zoo. Guess what I did on Saturday...

Skepticamp Winnipeg is coming up forthwith!  September 17th! Aqua Books! Come see all the interesting people give talks on nutrition, fallacies, polyamory, free will, perpetual motion machines… oh, and some pseudonymous blogger is doing a talk about Science in the Media (and how to find out the truth of things). I’m quite excited for it. Let us know that you’re coming here.

This is why we need women in skepticism!

There is a lot of post-Elevatorgate buzz about women in skepticism, including the announcement of a conference to specifically deal with women in secularism, more specifically the lack thereof. A lot of people who think that this is a non-issue have said that women (and other minorities in skepticism) will join the movement when they want to, that women simply aren’t interested in hearing about it. (And if you don’t think people actually believe this, please read the comments on the “Women in Secularism” announcement.) Since secularism is about self-improvement and education, I’m going to call Bullshit! on that. Yes, part of the problem is an environment in secularism that is intimidating to women, a lack of prominence for female skeptics, and so on. But the inverse of that is the amount of woo that is promoted to women.

Manitoba women use the health care system more than men, averaging 5.4 physician visits annually (4.4 for men), and 85% of women see a physician at least annually (79% for men.) Even healthy women of reproductive age receive birth control from their physician, have annual Pap tests, get mammograms, have prenatal consultations, and use health care services before, during and after childbirth. Women who are sick visit their physicians more frequently than men with similar illnesses. Women are more likely to be injured due to domestic violence (1 in 5 Manitoban women have been victimized by their partner in the last five years). Women are more likely to be proactive with their health, seeking screening and taking preventative measures more often than men. Now here’s the scary bit: almost 1 in 5 women in Manitoba consulted a CAM practitioner in 2003 (the most recent data). Only 1 in 10 men did the same! These statistics are in reality even worse, as the analysis excluded chiropractic, which partially covered by the province and therefore “not alternative.” Women are more preoccupied with their health, more concerned with prevention, and therefore more likely to be taken in by quacks.

Here’s a figure from the report I’m getting my data from:

The higher the household income, the more likely the women would seek CAM (here denoted CAHC for "health care"). Men did not seek more care as it became financially feasible.

In other words, as women were able to afford it, likely due to both increased income and increased private insurance coverage with the better paying jobs, more women were using CAM. I certainly would be interested to see if the discrepancy is access in lower income brackets, or a lack of awareness.

Well, maybe, you helpfully offer, chronically ill women are more likely to use CAM, and the wealth changes represent their ability to try unproven treatments for their disease! Nay nay….

The majority of women using CAM are healthy!

So what now? We have a bunch of healthy, wealthy women who are out there spending money on homeopathy and reiki and healing meditation and detox regimens and spiritual communicators. Why is it our problem if women want to waste their money on unproven crap? Well, because it’s not right, and it’s not fair. We don’t teach girls to ask questions, we tell them to trust authority, we tell them that their problems aren’t important, we tell them that they’re not an important part of the skeptical community, and then we proceed to laugh at them for finding a sympathetic ear and falling prey to placebo effects!

Worst of all, thanks to “integrative” “medicine,” woo is pervading our hospitals. While walking through the Women’s Health Centre, I saw a poster for upcoming health workshops being hosted at the Centre that made me do a double take. Yes, sponsored by Alberta Health Services, you can take a $40, 2-hour workshop in Reiki (“massage for your soul!”), a $190, 12-hour class in Feng Shui, or a $48, 3-hour workshop entitled, I kid you not, “Talking to Your Angels and Learning How to Listen,” run by Sandy Day, who claims to be a Reiki Master, Shaman, and Intuitive Healer. This is not some backwoods hand-waving Natural Healing Centre Of Happiness and Puppy Dog Kisses, this is at the biggest teaching hospital in the city, the centre for the high-risk pregnancies, for breast cancer: the medical hub! Or, on Wednesday, September 17th from 7-9 pm, the classroom for “Energy Medicine – The Internal World.” Oh but don’t worry, in tiny text:

Women’s Health Resources does not support, endorse or recommend any method, treatment, product, remedial center, program or person. We do, however, endeavour to inform because we believe in the right to have access to available information in order to make informed individual choices.

Now, call me skeptical, but I’m pretty sure if I wander over to the Urology clinic, I somehow doubt that I will see the same advertisements promising healing touch lessons for prostate problems.

For more than one reason, really. (zpeckler@flikr)

If we don’t teach our girls to question, and if we don’t ask our women to think, stuff like this is only going to get worse. No amount of half-assed disclaimery is going to change the fact that misinforming anyone is the opposite of giving them an informed individual choice. Talking about the dangerous of being teleported to Neptune by devious extraterrestrial cows does not come into discussions of which car you’d like to buy. Yes, you should be aware of the pros and cons of every car, and yes you should be free to make that choice, but having some random loon come in off the street to convince people that our Bovine Neptunian Overlords only abduct people who drive Chevies is pretty much the opposite of informed consent, particularly if the random loon also happens to sell Toyotas. Why is the Women’s Health Centre not bringing in drug companies to give presentations on why everyone should be taking Lipitor? Perhaps because there is a major conflict of interest when you are essentially charging people to sit through a sales pitch? And this is actually a bad example, because at least Lipitor actually has demonstrable, independently reproducible benefits!

So yes, we do need more women in skepticism. We need women standing up for themselves, saying that they are tired of all this bullshit being thrown at them. Without female allies telling Oprah to go stuff herself and Dr. Oz to take his reiki elsewhere, the skepticism movement will never succeed at exposing fraud in CAM. Women’s voices don’t just deserve to be heard in skepticism, they need to be heard, for the sake of everyone’s health.