Friday, September 21, 2012

Beating a dead fish: more reasons to correct for multiple comparisons

Last night, the Ignobel prizes rewarded research using an fMRI on a dead salmon as an extreme case of a null effect.  fMRI machines identify over a hundred thousand of voxels (the tiny pieces they divide the brain into), and by chance some voxels show activity even where there isn't activity simply because of the sheer number of opportunities for a false positive: similar to how a broken clock is right twice a day, and if you looked at the clock 100,000 times, you would see several times when it said the correct time.  The researchers had a dead salmon complete a standard task that would be used on live human subjects and showed that --- without correcting for multiple comparisons --- the salmon appeared to be thinking.  With correction for multiple comparisons, the scientists saw no effects.  This research was published in the Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected Results.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

DNC: Planned Parenthood promotes fertility

We all know that Planned Parenthood is in favor of parenthood at the right time. Giving women a place to address every type of reproductive health needs leaves them in better health, so that they are able to have children when it's their time. I found the story of Elizabeth Ann "Libby" Bruce, whose endometriosis was discovered at Planned Parenthood particularly moving, especially her delivery. Planned Parenthood didn't save her life, but it did make new life possible. There's nothing more pro-life than that. It doesn't hurt that her baby was born just 9 weeks ago, on our country's birthday. In Ohio.

The important issue here isn't access to health care, but access to the right health care. We have all known how scary and frustrating it is to feel sick without answers, even where insurance and health care access are assured. It's scary to think that Ms. Bruce might have never found a doctor to treat her condition, and thus found herself unable to have children.

I don't know whether Planned Parenthood is always better than women's other options, but it is important that Planned Parenthood is always an option. Planned Parenthood has saved the fertility of so many other women, but in ways that are sadly less politically palatable. We've come so far that we can have a woman say "endometriosis" in front of a full political convention, but we'll have come even farther when we can speak openly about chlamydia and other sexual health issues.

The Democrats are obviously way ahead on speaking candidly about women's health. Any guesses on how many decades before anyone will ever say the word "endometriosis" at the Republican convention?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Media coverage of "Cash, cars, and condoms" paper in Journal of Adolescent Health

Our newest paper on women getting money from their sexual partners was just published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, and covered by
ABC News, the
Health Behavior News Service (by Laura Kennedy), the
Empowerher blog (by Susan Cody), and in Latvian (?).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Birth control and the sexual revolution

Birth control, something practiced by nearly 100% of women, was once uncontroversial. Now, almost inexplicably, opposition to birth control has exploded.

Once upon a time, there were pro-choice Republicans. Now, not only has this breed become extinct, but it's no longer enough to oppose abortion. Birth control is now considered suspect.

It seems baffling to see such a reversal so suddenly. Social conservatives accept the standard narrative about the sexual revolution --- oral contraception allowed premarital sex, which caused the sexual revolution --- and they oppose it. Next step will be to reduce condom access, not just in schools, but also in stores, such as requiring them to be behind the counter and perhaps having age limits.

Telling kids to act as though the sexual revolution had not occurred, and teaching them that contraception is dangerous and ineffective --- abstinence only sex education --- didn't reverse the sexual revolution. The Congressionally mandated evaluation found that abstinence-only sex education did not decrease premarital sex. That failure was particularly embarrassing because some comprehensive sex education programs that teach about birth control decrease premarital sex.

Social conservatives' assumption may be that if birth control caused the sexual revolution, reducing birth control access might reverse the sexual revolution.

Unfortunately, they're wrong. Even before the advent of birth control, attitudes began to favor sex within loving non-marital relationships in the late 1940s and 1950s, as documented by sociologist Ira Reiss in his 1967 book, The Social Context of Premarital Sexual Permissiveness. (The entire book is available online for free at that link, and I highly recommend it.)

Even if there had been no oral contraceptive, there would have still been a sexual revolution. After all, in a society where sex within loving relationships is accepted, certainly people will find a way. For instance, withdrawal is only slightly less effective than condoms. The modern IUD is safe and effective. Diaphragms are safe and effective, if they are used without spermicide which could increase STI risk. And these methods may even be superior to hormonal contraception.

Elsewhere in this blog, I have spoken about shortcomings of oral contraception, according to my Second Wave feminist bias towards non-systemic, barrier methods of contraception. And I've spoken about problems with hookups, or as Reiss would say, permissiveness without affection.

Even if the conventional narrative were true, and birth control somehow caused the sexual revolution, it is not necessarily possible to reverse course and return to no premarital sex. How far will social conservatives go in attempting to reverse gains from the feminist movement?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Heterosexual-only sex education: next generation abstinence-only?

Rolling Stone tells of a rash of suicides among lesbian/gay/bisexual/questioning teens in a conservative town in Minnesota. They mention a next generation sex education program in public schools sponsored by evangelical organizations that questions same sex attraction. This heterosexual-only sex education program appears to be just another guise of abstinence-only sex education, and it seems to follow from the same motivation.

Both programs come from an assumption that both same sex attraction and premarital sex are brand new phenomena, and that it's possible to go back to the way things used to be. (Of course, plenty of evidence indicates that they're not new, and even if they were new, it's neither possible nor desirable to go back to a time when women's suffrage was unthinkable. None of the strong women evangelical leaders would agree to reverse feminist gains.)

Both programs attempt security via obscurity, and treat education as dangerous. Teaching a subject (contraception or same-sex attraction) is thought to encourage and legitimize the subject, and to advance an imagined liberal agenda.

Instead, the programs just delegitimize normal behavior and endanger teenagers. Abstinence-only sex education increased unsafe sex probably because it taught that pregnancy and STDs were unavoidable, so there was no point to avoiding them. Alternatively, it made teens so worried about the spiritual effects of sex that they never worried about the physical effects. That's dangerous and bad for public health, but probably no one would die from it. Hetero-only sex education is more insidious because it further marginalizes a population that is already marginalized, at high risk for educational and health disadvantages, and at high risk of suicide.

Right now these hetero-only sex education programs are coming into public schools using private funds. That's how abstinence-only sex education started in the early/mid 1990s. The next stage would be to slip funding for these programs into another bill, as abstinence-only began in 1996 with the welfare reform bill. I hope it doesn't get that far.

Friday, January 13, 2012

New experimental evidence suggests why weight loss is not just calories in vs. calories out

Exercise induces the release of a hormone called irisin, which converts white fat into thermogenic (calorie-burning) brown fat, according to a new paper published Wednesday in Nature. They motivate the paper by saying, "Exercise has the capacity to improve metabolic status in obesity and type 2 diabetes, but the mechanisms are poorly understood. Importantly, exercise increases whole body energy expenditure beyond the calories used in the actual work performed." The paper begins to explain how it may be that exercise burns more calories than those in the actual work: that is, much research in the exercise science literature finds that anaerobic exercise (like strength training and high intensity intervals) burns calories for 48 hours afterwards. Perhaps this hormone begins to explain why.

Meanwhile everyone is still despairing slightly because of the NYT Magazine article suggesting that body weight setpoints make permanent weight loss very difficult for almost everyone. The article mostly quoted people who used very low calorie diets that induce starvation conditions and steady-state cardio. As many have noted, steady state cardio doesn't work. People who stay away from processed food and use high-intensity intervals and strength training may have more luck maintaining weight loss.

If I understand the biochemistry, other research already found that high-intensity exercise increases a related protein (e.g., as found in Tabata's paper, famous for his intervals). We already know that anaerobic exercises burn more calories for longer and result in greater fat loss and less muscle loss. This paper suggests why: anaerobic exercise may be most effective in converting white fat into brown fat.

I am disappointed not to see a practical conclusion --- more weight lifting and intervals, less low-calorie dieting --- in the NYT Magazine article. The message is still "just walk more", which clearly doesn't work, but people say it because it seems realistic and attainable (never mind that it's cold outside.) Instead "do something hard" might result in people pushing themselves more and gaining more of the benefits of exercise demonstrated in this paper. I wonder what state the science would have to be in before the messaging on exercise changes.

After reading the paper, I did 3 simple Tabata intervals, and from this paper now I know that the irisin makes it worthwhile.