Pharyngula

It’s been a rough weekend. It was a rough night, with little sleep. This morning I had the double whammy of a doctor’s appointment and a dentist’s appointment. So I’m feeling a little cranky, and my teeth are all coated with this gummy gritty cherry-flavored fluoride goop. You don’t want to cross me today.

And then some idiot going by the name ‘eident9′ charges into a year-old thread and first demands an audience with me, and then demands an apology. WTF? This is a blog. Just post your comment and be done with it. And what bug has crawled up his butt suddenly? He says, “Recent matters have reminded me of this board.” Which had me wondering. What matters?

I’ve found out. It seems Russell Crowe had a twitter tantrum over circumcision. He’s against it. So am I. But apparently, I am not sufficiently angry about circumcision, and I belittled people who make it an obsession. I’m not going to apologize for that; I consider circumcision to be needless cosmetic surgery and a barbaric practice, and I’m not going to condone it, but neither am I going to go off the deep end like that guy and consider my life ruined by it. A majority of American males have been circumcised, and we’re a randy, raunchy, sexed-up lot who don’t seem to be suffering from an epidemic of sexual inadequacy. Well, maybe eident9 is, but one frustrated guy does not an epidemic make.

Now Salon has followed up with an article that suggests that circumcision may actually have some health benefits. I am not impressed. They cite a couple of incomplete epidemiological studies in African populations for HIV infection, and they come up with some astounding figures: a 50-60% reduction in infection rates. Wow, with that kind of advantage…sign me up.

However, these are deeply flawed studies. None of them were completed: they all abandoned the protocol and stopped the research as soon as preliminary results gave them positive values. This is like shooting craps and announcing that all your dice throws were practice…until you get a good roll, and then, yeah, that was the real deal. That one counts.

They all overstate their results. That 50-60% reduction was in relative rate, in comparison across the two groups. The actual calculated protection in absolute terms conferred by circumcision was a 2% reduction in the likelihood of infection. That doesn’t dazzle me, either, and given that the studies were terminated when they got their best results, I’m not persuaded.

And finally, give me a plausible mechanism for how circumcision would achieve these remarkable gains. Tell me how it is supposed to work. If it’s something to do with hygiene, it seems to me that better sex and health education should have the same or better effect than lopping off bits of skin.

So to my crackpot complainer, I say no apologies. I also say as I always have that I oppose circumcision, think it is a pointless and petty bit of suffering to put children through and ought to be discouraged, but I also don’t think it’s as hideously damaging as the obsessive nuts want to claim. Also, in the context of the original post, I consider it a prime example of selfish privilege to invade discussions of female genital mutilation, which does cause serious sexual and medical problems, with demands that we pay more attention to the lesser concerns of males getting lightly scarred penises.