Monday, June 05, 2006

Cancer Good, Condoms Bad

Glamour, of all places, has a new piece called The new lies about women's health. Of course, as some point out, the new lies are the same as the old lies. In other words, none of this is surprising to anyone who's been following this administration's disgusting repudiation of all things scientific. The upshot is: ladies, we need to get rid of this administration as soon as possible, and meanwhile, make sure you know your doctor's policies on emergency contraception. Gentlemen, this is your battle, too, unless you'd like a whole lot more kids a whole lot sooner than you'd planned.

Apart from the Bush administration's generalized Evil, the reason this particular instance of it is worthy of our keen logical minds is that the rhetoric employed--besides clearly having nothing to do with the real reasons behind the policies described--uses a fallacy that gets thrown around a lot in politics: the perfect solution fallacy. This type of bad reasoning says that if your solution to a problem can't fix it completely, then it shouldn't be implemented (also, incidentally, begging the question of whether a perfect solution exists).

The Glamour article details many instances of this fallacious thinking, the most impressively irrational of which is about HPV. First, the background:
A few years ago, several conservative congressional legislators asked King K. Holmes, M.D., Ph.D., how well condoms protected against STDs. "They asked whether condoms were effective against everything," says Dr. Holmes, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and one of the world's leading experts on STDs. He told them yes, condoms were especially effective against HIV, and worked well against all STDs with one exception: human papillomavirus, or HPV, a few strains of which can cause cervical cancer. At that time, he said, researchers suspected that condoms did offer some HPV protection, but the data were incomplete.
So the reseachers told legislators that condoms protect against HIV and all STDs, except for HPV, which they did not have enough data on. Sounds pretty good, right? Certainly a lot better than unprotected sex, which protects from none of these things. Clearly you are not a right-wing activist:
Through lobbying and testimony before Congress, the religious right attacked government sex-education programs that included information on condom use. The Family Research Council argued that such programs expose "our youth to incurable disease on a daily basis. Most notable among these diseases is human papilloma virus, HPV."
Let's take a moment to appreciate how absurd this is.

Scientists say condoms are "especially effective" at protecting you from STDs. They're not so sure about HPV (though it looks promising).

The Family Research Council says that teaching about condom use exposes people to disease.

Deliciously irrational!

In effect, the FRC and others are trying to exploit a perceived failure in an otherwise effective solution to argue that the solution shouldn't be implemented at all. They ignore all incremental gains that condoms provide--such as protection against that inconsequential little virus, HIV--so that they can peddle their fantastically useless abstinence-based "education."

When we keep following the HPV example, we find that the fallacies get deeper and the rhetoric gets emptier:
Soon, there will be another weapon even more effective against HPV than condoms. The drug company Merck has found that its new vaccine Gardasil is nearly 100 percent effective against the HPV strains that most often cause cervical cancer. Another vaccine, Cervarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, appears to be just as effective.

...But conservative groups began voicing objections as soon as the drugs started making headlines. Sen. Coburn, for one, testified before the House of Representatives that "going after one or two types [of HPV] is halfway," a charge health experts find illogical since the HPV strains prevented by the vaccine account for most cases of cervical cancer.
Wow. Because the vaccine only works against one form of HPV, instead of two, we should not allow it. Even though it's a goddamn cancer vaccine. Well, gee, why bother trying to cure cancer if we can't do it already? Why treat cancer patients if they're going to die or lose an organ or a breast anyway? Why should any of us do anything but lie down and wait for death?

Illogical thinking has a breaking point, a thought past by the whole line of reasoning should crumble. If the anti-sex forces in America didn't have enough of these already, the fact that they are actively opposing a cancer vaccine should be it. But of course it won't be. And, as the Glamour article's section headings neatly illustrate, that makes these nutjobs' irrational thinking our problem:







The article tries to end optimistically, with "SCIENTISTS FIGHT BACK" as the last section, but I for one feel too sick by the end to feel much hope. Those all-caps statements above are what happens when illogical misanthropic dogma subverts science.

This might be a good time to find out where your local Planned Parenthood is.


The article in Glamour also talks about the denial of access to Plan B. The logical extension of this idiocy is, of course, more abortions.


Blogger jess said...

Also, YOU ARE BEING DENIED A CANCER VACCINE, YOU ARE BEING DENIED A CANCER VACCINE, YOU ARE BEING DENIED A CANCER VACCINE. This might make me angrier than all the reproductive rights issues combined. The reasoning you've brought up here is a flimsy pretext (really flimsy, as you showed). In reality, we're being asked to swallow fundamentalist sadomasochism, which preaches that women who get cervical cancer from HPV deserve to have cancer because they've had sex. Never mind the percentages of women who get HPV from their husbands. The wages of sin is death, whether we can prevent that death or not. God, it's so sick.

And it's an example of an even simpler logical fallacy than the one you describe, although that one's certainly at work too. What we have here is AFFIRMING THE GODDAMN CONSEQUENT. Is this not, like, the first logical misstep you learn to avoid? The argument is "If people are going to have sex, we need to have an available HPV vaccine/Plan B/condoms/oral contraceptives. If we make the HPV vaccine/Plan B/condoms/oral contraceptives available, then, people will therefore have more sex." Unstated assumptions: of course it's unacceptable for people to have sex. So our health is being put at risk for PRUDISHNESS AND BAD LOGIC, two of my least favorite traits. Everything else is justification, and as you've shown, it's shitty justification. Much like the ID folks, the New Puritans have pretty much burned their bridges back to rational thinking -- if they start accepting reason or evidence, their arguments fall apart, so they have to plunge ahead with the most transparent rhetorical smokescreens they can cough up.

Your post harkened back to Orac's, too... if one thing is unaccounted for, it must all be useless. What a crock.

Bravo to Glamour, though of course this article runs the same risks as the Rolling Stone election piece. Excuse me, I'm going to go punch a senator now.

June 05, 2006 6:10 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

"What we have here is AFFIRMING THE GODDAMN CONSEQUENT. Is this not, like, the first logical misstep you learn to avoid? The argument is "If people are going to have sex, we need to have an available HPV vaccine/Plan B/condoms/oral contraceptives. If we make the HPV vaccine/Plan B/condoms/oral contraceptives available, then, people will therefore have more sex.""

The thing about the argument is that it really is left so undeveloped that it isn't quite clear what the reasoning is. You can certainly interpret it as being fallacious; however, you could also interpret it as argument, "____ will give people information about sex, lessen the dangers of sex, or give a false sense of security about having sex. When people know more about an activity (that is somehow desirable or pleasant) and believe any dangers involved have been reduced it will increase their liklihood of engaging in said behavior. Therefore, ____ will increase the incidence of casual sex. Causal sex can lead to disease transmission, unwanted pregnancy, and teen pregnancy, which are bad." Interpreted this way, the argument is not implausible and does not actually involve the inverse logical error in affirming the consequent.

There are two problems with it: First, suggesting a plausible link between two things does not make it so. It requires empirical evidence, things like well controlled studies. Second, it ignores the bad consequences of not giving people ____, so I suppose it's what you've called the perfect solution fallacy (I think).

In the case of HPV, this interpretation still leads to an argument that's rather ridiculous. It reduces to saying there may be some connection between ____ and some negative things but not offering any actual proof that this is the case, and then saying that this outweighs the well established negative consequences of not having ____.

I also agree with you that all this talk about concerns over public health and such are just a cover for other motivations. That explains why they don't seem interested in actually seeing if the claims are true or in taking advice of actual public health experts, the vast majority of whom would certainly back wider availabilty of condoms, emergency contraception, HPV vaccines, etc.

June 09, 2006 6:04 AM  
Blogger jess said...

That's true, the argument as you phrased it is valid -- still flawed, of course, since one of the premises is proveably false, but more valid. And that's certainly a good characterization of the argument as presented. Still, I think the complete immunity of this argument to any evidence refuting that second premise belies a serious confusion about cause and effect.

There's also the reasoning that nobody has mentioned so far: the presumption that, in absence of these things that are presumably more likely to make people have sex, people will have no sex at all. Leaving aside all of the data about how teens who take abstinence pledges are actually more likely to have sex, this is at best a naive assumption. In some kind of cotton-candy universe full of puppies, the choices are between teenagers who are vaccinated and know how to use condoms and have access to BCPs, and teenagers who remain unstained virgins until their wedding nights. In the real world, the choice is between educated/vaccinated teens and teens at high risk for cervical cancer, STDs, and unwanted pregnancy. Anyone who can put kids in this danger is either wilfully blind, malicious, or lying about their intentions. I tend to think it falls at about half blind and half lying; some people won't look at the evidence, and some don't care because their real motive is divine retribution.

June 09, 2006 11:41 AM  
Blogger monado said...

The vaccine is effective against four types of HPV.

And, of course, death is not an appropriate punishment for having sex.

That reminds me of the people who think it's so logical to say, "Well, you knew you could get pregnant when you had sex." But they don't say, "You knew you could break a leg when you went skiing" or "You knew you could crash when you got into a car" (so we're not going to treat you).

June 12, 2006 10:26 PM  
Blogger C said...

Whoa, there's actually a really good reason for not giving everyone the "cancer vaccine": if you've already been exposed to the HPV virus strains it covers, it can't help you. And it only protects against four strains (two of the main ones that cause genital warts, and the two with the highest association with cervical cancer). Because HPV is so incredibly prevalent (many people are carrying it without any symptoms), it doesn't make sense to recommend the vaccine to people who have been sexually active with multiple partners. This doesn't mean that your doctor absolutely won't give you the vaccine if you've had multiple partners, but it does mean that you might have to shell out $300+ for a vaccine that probably won't help protect you.

Pap smears help protect you. Detecting cervical changes early and treating them absolutely prevents cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is *not* a big problem (in terms of both incidence and mortality) in the US--it's a huge problem in less developed countries. You know, the ones where women can't afford the vaccine and there aren't likely to be government programs that cover it.

The other beef with the vaccine is this: it's been shown to prevent four strains of HPV. It has *not* been shown to prevent cervical cancer. Yes, there is an association between those two strains of HPV and cervical cancer, but since cervical cancer takes so long to develop and the vaccine really needs to be given so early, we really won't have conclusive proof of the vaccine's preventative efficacy for some time. We might yet find that there are other factors important in the development of cervical cancer, and that this vaccine is not the end-all be all it's being touted as being (by its manufacturer, which stands to make a huge profit). Also, and this is worth thinking about, too: we don't know if this vaccine needs a booster yet. We're assuming that it won't, but we may very well find that people shell out a bunch of money for this and the protective effect wears off after 20 years. Which is fine in the general sense of, "oh, we can give a booster," but it sure will suck to be the people who help find that out.


July 03, 2006 5:57 PM  
Blogger jess said...

The thing that's annoying me logically, though, is that none of this constitutes a reason not to give out the vaccine (with HPV tests first, of course -- anything else would be irresponsible). I mean, yes, we don't know that the vaccine prevents cervical cancer. We do know that it prevents something that causes cervical cancer, so there's good reason to believe it would reduce the incidence, but it's certainly not going to stamp out all cervical cancer everywhere. Okay. But people are trying to use such incomplete knowledge to argue that the vaccine is ineffective -- along the exact same lines as the "condoms don't protect against HPV, therefore they are utterly futile" argument.

The HPV vaccine is not useless. We don't know for sure how extensive its uses are. But the fact that, for instance, you might need a booster in 20 years is NOT a good enough reason to oppose it. And of course you're not saying it is -- but some people are.

July 03, 2006 6:42 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Because HPV is so incredibly prevalent (many people are carrying it without any symptoms), it doesn't make sense to recommend the vaccine to people who have been sexually active with multiple partners.

Of course you're right--that's a logical statement. What the right-wingers are saying, though, is that we shouldn't give the vaccine to kids because it will tell them we think it's just dandy if they go out and have multiple sex partners. That doesn't make sense.

And you're right about it not strictly being a cancer vaccine:

HPV --> cancer
vaccine --> no HPV
does not prove:
vaccine --> no cancer

But HPV is bad, and it sometimes leads to cancer, and we can potentially stop it by giving kids routine shots that, for all they know, have nothing to do with sex. Logic needs to be at work, along with good, careful science. Amanda at Pandagon has a nice post about this.

Thanks for coming by and weighing in--we appreciate your expert opinion! :-)

July 03, 2006 7:00 PM  
Blogger aimulti said...

Condoms pose deadly threat
German scientists came to the conclusion that the majority of condoms contain carcinogens causing cancer.

According to the specialists of the Institute of Chemical Research in Shtutgart, Germany, 29 out of the 32 kinds of the researched condoms contain N-Nitrosamine carcinogen.

"N-Nitrosamine is one of the most poisonous carcinogens|, said the research author. ?Condom producers should be pressed to deal with this issue|.

Scientists suspect that this carcinogen is contained in the additional substances condoms are made of. After the rubber contacts person-s skin, the dangerous substance can penetrate into the person-s organism.

and are useless

"The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, released the report compiled by the panel of 28 experts, who analyzed about 138 published studies on the use of condoms during penile-vaginal intercourse.

"There was a lack of evidence to help us make a definitive conclusion about the effectiveness of condoms," said panel member Dr. Timothy Schacker, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota"

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