TV & Radio
The tattle of the sexes
Innate gender difference is far from proven - yet widely believed
Saturday July 16, 2005
Tomorrow night, on the BBC programme Secrets of the Sexes, viewers are to be told "what really separates the sexes". Among the mishmash of science and gossip that follows, there is a striking story about a transsexual woman whose intellectual abilities changed significantly after she began to take male hormones. A neurologist, Ruben Gur, explains that "what we are seeing really is a female brain turning into a male brain" as we watch her doing less well on tests of verbal memory and better on spatial tasks after years of testosterone injections.
Such a tale leaves the casual viewer in little doubt that scientists are entirely agreed about the way sex hormones affect people's intelligence. The story is used as clinching proof of the argument that men and women differ hugely in their innate abilities. But the fact is that scientists are far from in agreement.
Melissa Hines, a psychologist who has sifted through stacks of evidence about the effects of sex hormones on adults, has found a range of differing results. Some studies found cognitive changes in the direction expected, some found no change, and some found changes in the opposite direction - so that, for instance, some men who were given testosterone got better at so-called feminine tasks. Hines is one of many scientists who are getting more and more irritated by the way the media pretend that consensus exists in an area of energetic dissent.
If the BBC misleads viewers in this way it is hardly acting alone. Our culture is now eager to embrace studies that show innate sex differences in character and cognition - and eager to discount studies that do not. An experiment by Simon Baron-Cohen and his associates, which concludes that day-old baby girls look for longer at faces, and day-old baby boys look for longer at a mechanical mobile, is given admiring airtime in this programme. It has already been quoted all over the place by those who like to see in it some kind of proof that women are formed at birth to invest more in human relationships.
But another expert, the psychologist Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University, was scathing when I asked her how typical such a result is of research on young children's cognition. "This is one single isolated experiment," she pointed out. "Its findings fly in the face of dozens of studies on similar aspects of cognition carried out on young babies over decades. It is astonishing how much this one study has been cited, when the many studies that show no difference between the sexes, or a difference in the other direction, are ignored."
People are naturally drawn to those findings that bolster the stereotypes they already hold - and when it comes to sex differences these stereotypes are held with immense tenacity. There have been many changes in the way that men and women behave in family and working life over the last few generations. But obviously a bedrock of inequality remains. Men continue to take more powerful roles in society and women continue to do the bulk of unpaid domestic work and childcare. Many people, rather than criticising this reality, are now shrugging their shoulders and saying this is just how men and women are - not because society encourages them to be like that but because biology enforces it.
Almost all the scientists who work in this area would never suggest that more social change is impossible. After all, even those who hold most firmly to the idea that men and women differ fundamentally from birth still have to admit the powerful effects of social conditioning that work alongside such differences. Yet the way such science is being used in the mainstream feeds inertia rather than optimism.
If the situation for women is that they "want to win, but testosterone gives men the edge", then where is the injustice if women fail to gain more power in society? If, as this programme suggests, an experiment in which men fail to stop and help a little girl on the street should be taken as proof that men are innately worse at empathising, rather than proof that men are being discouraged from building up rapport with young children in our society, then why should we feel that men's absence from family life is a problem?
But it will never be possible for these siren voices of inertia to silence entirely those who are still asking for further social change. Even this particular programme also captures the way that some of the individuals who took part felt deeply frustrated by certain expectations laid on their sexes. The desire to rebel against the stereotypes that box us in clearly springs from roots quite as deep as the innate drive to conform to type. After all, if humans are innately anything, we are innately capable of change. We should not allow lazy use of science to blind us to that truth, which is the truth of our history and experience.
後任選びが本格化 米連邦最高裁判事 (共同 2005/07/16)
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Waxman Urges End to 'Misleading' Health Website
U.S.-funded resource for parents of teens has inaccurate data on sex issues, lawmaker says.
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
Times Staff Writer
July 14, 2005 - Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — A government website created to help parents counsel their teenagers about risky health behaviors provides "inaccurate and misleading" information about condoms, sexual orientation and other issues, a Democratic congressman charged Wednesday.
The site, http://www.4parents.gov , promotes sexual abstinence until young people enter into a "mutually faithful marriage to an uninfected partner" as the "healthiest choice."
But it could become another source of contention in a health ethics debate that includes such issues as stem cell research and end-of-life care, pitting social conservatives and some doctors against liberals and many in the medical establishment.
The website should be removed from the Internet, with a team of experts assigned to evaluate the accuracy of its contents, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) urged Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt in a letter sent Wednesday.
"The content appears to have been guided by ideology, not a commitment to providing parents and teens reliable information about sex," Waxman wrote. "A federally funded website should present the facts as they are, not as you might wish them to be. It is wrong — and ultimately self-defeating — to sacrifice scientific accuracy in an effort to frighten teens and their parents."
Much of the work on the website was done by the National Physicians Center for Family Resources, an educational and advocacy group that promotes sexual abstinence for teens.
"The website was intended to emphasize the healthiest lifestyle choice, and [President Bush] says that he believes abstinence is the healthiest choice for adolescents," said Dianna Lightfoot, the nonprofit organization's president. The group has offices in Birmingham, Ala., and Malibu.
"There is a wealth of information on contraception," Lightfoot said, adding that abstinence should receive equal prominence so that parents could use that information "to set a higher standard" for their children's behavior.
The Department of Health and Human Services contracted to pay the center $25,000 for its work, she added.
Department spokesman Daniel Morales said officials had not had time to review Waxman's letter and could not comment on the lawmaker's objections.
The website has been well received by parents since it was launched this year, said Dr. Alma Golden, the department's deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, who is also a pediatrician. Her office was responsible for overseeing the project.
But Golden said the department also had heard concerns about some of the information. "We have people who said they thought condoms were more efficacious" than what was reported on the site, she said.
The department is committed to presenting accurate information for parents and will correct any mistakes, she added.
"If there is something awkward, uncomfortable or not usable, we want to be able to modify it," Golden said. "The bottom line is we obviously want accurate data."
Waxman asked four academic experts to independently review the website.
In letters to Waxman, three of them noted some positive aspects but all four found problems with accuracy, balance and completeness.
Dr. King Holmes, a University of Washington professor of medicine specializing in infectious diseases, said in a letter to Waxman that a chart on sexually transmitted diseases understated the effectiveness of condoms. For example, the chart on the site states that condom use "is associated with some decreased risk" of being infected with chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and herpes.
Holmes said the chart should instead read "significantly decreased risk." He also said the chart understated the effectiveness of AIDS drugs in prolonging life.
Dr. Richard Pleak, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, wrote Waxman that a section of the site dealing with gay teenagers omitted crucial information.
He offered as an example a statement on the website that "some teens who question their gender or relationships are at increased risk for depression, suicide or other problems."
Pleak said the site should note that such problems are "most often due to rejection, ostracism, harassment, and even violence by biased peers and adults." He also suggested that the website include references to national organizations that provide support for parents of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender teens.
"It is clear that the website authors were not offering information consistent with current scientific evidence and clinical expertise, and thus the effectiveness of such information is severely diminished," Pleak wrote.
Dr. John Santelli, chairman of the department of population and family health at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, criticized the website for relying on anecdotal information from media accounts to suggest that teens increasingly engage in oral sex.
"There is little evidence that oral sex has increased over time," Santelli wrote. "The [website's] statement that 'oral sex is as dangerous in terms of disease as is intercourse' is incorrect. Most [sexually transmitted infections] are less commonly transmitted orally and/or are less likely to result in disease."
Lightfoot, the department's consultant on the site, said she believed that any inaccurate information would be corrected, but she added that she was disappointed with Waxman's criticism.
"I would say to Mr. Waxman, 'For every expert you can line up, I can line up 10 psychologists and 40 gynecologists,' " Lightfoot said.
"Instead of continuing to disagree and complain … I would encourage him to say that there are more constructive and positive things that could be added to this message."
Access to Contraceptive Did Not Alter Practices, Study Says
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 13, 2005; Page A02
Making emergency contraception available without a prescription in Britain did not lead women there to rely on it rather than other birth control methods or to an increase in unprotected sex, a new study has found.
The three-year study of more than 20,000 women found that over-the-counter availability had little effect. About the same percentage of women used the emergency contraceptive before and after it become more easily available in January 2001 -- about 8 percent annually.
The researchers concluded that fears that nonprescription emergency contraception would change contraceptive practices were unfounded, as were hopes it would reduce unwanted pregnancies.
The study was published on the online version of the British journal BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).
The question of whether emergency contraception should be available without a prescription has become a political issue in the United States, with social conservatives saying that it would encourage sexual promiscuity and reproductive rights advocates saying it would enable women to better protect themselves against unintended pregnancies.
In 2003, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted 23 to 4 to recommend making the Plan B brand of emergency contraceptive available without prescription, but the agency rejected the proposal last May. The makers of Plan B, Barr Laboratories Inc., revised the application and resubmitted it, but the FDA missed its January deadline for acting on it.
The issue has now been raised in the confirmation of Lester M. Crawford, nominated by President Bush to become the commissioner of food and drugs. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have accused the administration of politicizing the Plan B application and have placed a hold on Crawford's nomination until the FDA makes a decision.
The authors of the study, conducted by researchers at the Imperial College Faculty of Medicine in London and funded by the British Office of National Statistics, wrote that their work had "important policy implications."
They concluded that women prefer obtaining emergency contraception over the counter, that cost appears to be a barrier for some, and that the proportion of women using emergency contraception did not increase after the policy change.
"Given the apparent absence of negative consequences, and the fact that many women clearly prefer to buy [emergency contraception] over the counter, our study supports the case for lifting the ban on over-the-counter sales in the United States and other countries," the authors, led by professor of primary care Azeem Majeed, wrote.
Bill to legalize gay marriage revived in California
Fri Jul 15, 8:45 PM ET
Steve Saklad (L) and partner of 12 years Paul Hartman look at each other during their 2004 wedding in San Francisco. A legislator's back-door move revived a bill that could make California the second state in the United States to pass a law legalizing gay marriage, officials said(AFP/File/Hector Mata)
LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A legislator's back-door move revived a bill that could make California the second state in the United States to legalize gay marriage, officials said.
The move came after an exact replica of the revived bill was defeated by three votes in the legislature of the traditionally trend-setting US state one month ago as the issue of same-sex marriage divides the country.
State Assembly member Mark Leno replaced a colleague's pending bill with gay marriage legislation that had earlier been narrowly defeated in a administrative maneuver referred to as "gut and amend."
The time is ripe to pass the bill -- which if passed would make California the first US state where legislators rather than the courts have legalized gay marriage -- because of political momentum driving the issue, Leno told AFP.
Leno added that he did not want to wait until 2006 to submit the controversial bill to the state legislature because political support for it would be tougher to garner in an election year.
"This is clearly the civil rights issue of the day and it is time for this to happen," Leno said. "We will have a wind at our backs. We are confident we will prevail."
Since the first incarnation of the bill was defeated by three votes in one month ago, gay marriage laws have triumphed with "colorful statements" from politicians in Canada and Spain, Leno stressed.
In addition, religious group the Church of Christ and the United Farm Workers, and the city council of Los Angeles have since voiced support for gay marriages, Leno said.
The eastern state of Massachusetts last year became the first US state to legalize same-sex marriage after its supreme court barred discrimination against same-sex couples.
Since the bill passed out of the state judiciary committee about a week ago, Leno and his allies have been trying to win the backing of politicians who abstained from voting on it the first time around, Leno said.
He predicted the bill would win a vote on the Assembly floor some time in August and then be put on the desk of California's celebrity Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for final approval.
But even if Schwarzenegger signs the bill, that is unlikely to mark the end of the fight for the right of gays and lesbians to marry in California.
Opponents of same-sex marriage are promoting ballot measures that would call on voters to decide whether to unequivocally define legal marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Leno's revival of the bill "is a repulsive attack on voters of California who want marriage protected," according to the Campaign for Children and Families, which has doggedly fought against legalizing gay marriages.
Leaders of the group are urging support of Proposition 22, which would make heterosexual unions the only valid marriages in California.
The proposition promoted by gay marriage opponents "would rip children from the loving arms of legal parents" by retroactively preventing same-sex couples from legally being adoptive or foster parents, Leno said.
"They want to deny a certain group of citizens in California rights and recognition," Leno said of the CCF and its strident president, Randy Thomasson. "Once Californians defeat their ballot initiative, it will be the beginning of the turn of the tide in this country."
If the bill reaches Schwarzenegger and gets his stamp of approval, it would become law on January 1, 2006.
Spouses of HIV patients in Singapore to be informed
Fri Jul 15, 5:23 PM ET
A volunteer pins up ribbons bearing the names of people who died of HIV/AIDS, during Singapore's AIDS Candlelight Memorial in 2003(AFP/File/Roslan Rahman)
SINGAPORE (AFP) - The Singapore government will make it compulsory for the spouses of HIV patients to be informed that their partner has the disease, a senior health official said in published remarks.
Under the new law, the infected person's consent is not required before his or her condition is made known to the spouse, the first time the government has given the green light for physicians to breach patient confidentiality.
Minister of State for Health Balaji Sadasivan was quoted as saying by the Straits Times newspaper that the new measures were necessary to protect the vulnerable.
"The Infectious Diseases Act will be adhered to and the spouse will be informed," Balaji told an audience of doctors at the launch of a compulsory medical ethics course for trainee specialists on Thursday.
"Where the law requires a physician to act in a specific manner, the physician must follow the law. No doctor is above the law."
To avoid doctors having to tell the spouses directly, the task will fall to personnel at a yet-to-be established HIV Prevention Unit.
The new moves come amid a sharp rise in HIV/AIDS infections in Singapore, with official statistics showing a record 311 people in Singapore contracted HIV in 2004, 28 percent more than the previous year.
There are now more than 2,000 confirmed HIV or AIDS patients in Singapore.
Last year, the city-state included non-compulsory HIV testing as part of a routine medical checkup for pregnant women in a bid to stem the rise of new infections.
For Poor Women, An AIDS Safety Net
By Ilene Wong
Friday, July 15, 2005; Page A23 - Washington Post
HIV-positive mothers in Cape Town, South Africa, sing after a visit by First Lady Laura Bush on Tuesday during which she praised a program to prevent AIDS-infected babies. (Mike Hutchings -- Reuters)
In my nightmares, I see the women we have failed to protect from AIDS.
Women in South Africa do almost everything. When they cook, they harvest spinach, carrots and cabbage from vegetable gardens they have planted themselves. When they clean, they use brooms made from dried grass they walked miles to harvest. They wash their entire family's laundry by hand, wringing out clothes heavy with soapy water with hands that could break the neck of a chicken in one twist.
The one thing women don't do in South Africa, however, is tell their husbands to use condoms. When I taught AIDS awareness in a rural area near Mozambique, even virgin schoolboys posited that prophylactics were passe. "You can't eat a sweet in the wrapper," they would say shyly in their broken English.
In many cultures, men give "bride prices" ( labola ) and tacitly expect a maid, a cook and a sexual servant. Women who request condoms are invariably considered suspect. Yet in Zimbabwe 60 percent of women who have AIDS report being married and monogamous.
Young women around the world need a prevention tool they can control, and since the late 1990s a small number of discerning researchers have explored one possibility: an effective microbicide -- that is, a drug that women can apply directly to their vaginas to reduce the spread of HIV. Antiretrovirals can hold back the tide of AIDS once a person is infected, but they're costly and not a true cure. HIV vaccines are years, possibly decades, away from widespread rollout. Which brings us back to prevention.
The "ABCs" of prevention are abstinence, being faithful and condom use. But we've seen women slip through the cracks with these methods. Microbicides would be a lifesaving safety net and could even theoretically prevent HIV transmission after rape if applied daily. Yet very few members of the general public -- indeed, very few health professionals -- know what they are. Why?
In a world where vaccines are the rock stars of HIV prevention, microbicides are the street musicians -- egalitarian, resourceful and poorly paid. The International Partnership for Microbicides estimates that an annual $280 million investment (a fraction of the world budget for vaccine research) for the next five years could generate an effective microbicide by 2010.
Yet microbicide researchers, typically nonprofits and academics, are struggling on only $100 million a year. Certainly the microbicide world has suffered losses in momentum from products that have failed to fulfill their promise. Additionally, potential microbicides are embarrassingly low-tech, with one formulation being derived from seaweed and one from lime juice.
But one gets the impression that pharmaceutical companies would be more persistent in their efforts if the main beneficiaries of microbicides were not impoverished African women -- women such as Grace, a quiet, God-fearing housemaid I knew who worked seven days a week for three different families. She found out a month after her husband's death that she had AIDS. Then there was Mimi. When her migrant worker husband abandoned her, she took up with a new boyfriend to support her three children. Until he died, after infecting her, she had no idea that he had AIDS. I especially think about how microbicides could save women such as Joan, who became infected when she was raped at the age of 16 by an assailant with AIDS. She's one of the lucky ones, enrolled in a clinical trial of antiretrovirals in Johannesburg. But what if she, and the 50,000 yearly rape victims in South Africa, had access to a microbicide they could put on before leaving the house or before a trip to a bar? No telling how many lives could be saved. No telling until we have a microbicide in hand.
As our administration funnels more and more AIDS funding to faith-based nongovernmental organizations, I despair for my sisters in Africa, who know that abstinence is rarely an option for the powerless and poor. Rather, it's a luxury for those confident that they will eat tomorrow. A truly comprehensive and farsighted global AIDS program would recognize that women need their own weapons against HIV. They need microbicides.
The writer, a physician at Stanford University Hospital and Clinics, has done AIDS work in Africa. She will be available to answer questions at 1 p.m. today on http://www.washingtonpost.com.
日本の大学生意識調査 神戸・エイズ国際会議 (神戸新聞 2005/07/16)
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Taiwan HIV patients face eviction - AP
Twenty-two HIV-positive people living in a housing facility for AIDS patients in Taipei, Taiwan, face eviction from the property after neighbors protested the existence of the housing complex, the Taipei Times reports. Six HIV-positive children and 15 HIV-positive adults currently live at Midway Home, built by the Harmony Home Association.
The housing facility recently relocated to the neighborhood after the landlord at the facility’s previous location decided not to renew the lease after he discovered it housed HIV-positive people, Midway Home officials say. Nicole Yang, secretary general of the Harmony Home Association, says city police alerted people living near the home’s new location that it houses AIDS patients. Local residents issued a statement during a township meeting held on July 1 claiming that “many of the AIDS patients are drug addicts or gay people", and saying “We refuse to live under the fear that one day one of those people may stab other residents with a needle or have a bad influence on our children.”
Yang says her organization has attempted to educate area residents about HIV and that it can be transmitted only through shared drug needles or unprotected sex. “People will not be at risk of contracting HIV by having an AIDS patient living next door,” she told the Times. But she notes the organization’s educational efforts have largely fallen on deaf ears.
Because city officials have failed to weigh in on the issue, the housing facility will be forced to move--perhaps as early as next week--if residents of the area continue to oppose having it in their neighborhood, Yang says.