Friday, July 13, 2007

Womb Control: Twisting The Issues

I don't know whether to laugh or cry over the rank stupidity of this article.

It's a classic case of people twisting unrelated arguments together in an effort to suit their own ends - and results in a "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" kind of logic.

The headline of the article is innocuous enough, although it hints at where the writer is going to head:

Contracepting the Environment

Environmentalists Mum on Poisoned Streams

They then proceed to whine about the environmental movements are all but ignoring this catastrophe that is happening under our noses. They start off with the following:

When EPA-funded scientists at the University of Colorado studied fish in a pristine mountain stream known as Boulder Creek two years ago, they were shocked. Randomly netting 123 trout and other fish downstream from the city’s sewer plant, they found that 101 were female, 12 were male, and 10 were strange “intersex” fish with male and female features.

Okay, this is nothing particularly new. Stories have surfaced about unusual mutations in aquatic life where human-created pollution has occurred have been around for years - including "hermaphrodite fish".

They studied the fish and decided the main culprits were estrogens and other steroid hormones from birth control pills and patches, excreted in urine into the city’s sewage system and then into the creek.

Woodling, University of Colorado physiology professor David Norris, and their EPA-study team were among the first scientists in the country to learn that a slurry of hormones, antibiotics, caffeine and steroids is coursing down the nation’s waterways, threatening fish and contaminating drinking water.

There's two leaps of inference here. First, is the insinuation that this is suddenly, magically affecting our drinking water supply. Which naturally ignores the filtration and treatment processes that already are done to most municipal drinking water long before it reaches your tap. The second, and fairly obvious point is the old cowboy principle of "never drink downstream from the herd". Few, if any municipalities have their water intakes downstream of any effluent discharge if they can help it.

The second leap is a bit of foreshadowing. Notice the use of the phrase "estrogens and other steroid hormones from birth control pills and patches". Like good little pope-bots, they zero in on "birth control pills", and try to blame it all on them:

When asked about the genetically modified fish and the contaminated drinking water, however, he said: “It just has so much competition out there for stuff to work on.”

He told the Boulder Weekly that nobody needed to consider curtailing use of artificial contraceptives out of concern for the creek.

Please note the twist here. The writer is presupposing a solution to the problem - just quit taking those nasty contraceptives, and the problem goes away. Or does it?

Well, not really. The real science points out that there are a lot of different bits of chemistry involved, not just estrogens used in birth control pills. (Among other things, estrogen has valid medical uses beyond oral contraceptives; further, we ingest (and excrete) a variety of other drugs and chemical compounds that play into the picture. {Not to mention the fact that urine is filled with all sorts of waste from the body - including hormone compounds. This is perfectly natural.

The twist is obvious at this point, the author and the publisher, the National Catholic Register, have an agenda. Their church preaches that contraception is evil, and therefore that you shouldn't use it. So, it becomes politically convenient to blame the "hermaphrodite fish" effect on hormone-based contraceptives. (Of course what they conveniently ignore is that hormones are a form of steroid, used in a wide variety of medical treatments. (Talk to someone with Crohn's about the use of steroids in the recovery from the very necessary operations they have to undergo...

Then we get to the "wife beating" accusation:

“If you’re killing mosquitoes to save people from the West Nile virus, you can count on secular environmentalists to lay down in front of the vapor truck, claiming some potential side effect that might result from the spray,” Harden said. “But if birth control deforms fish — backed by the proof of an EPA study — and threatens the drinking supply, mum will be the word.”

What really galls me about this article is the facile, and ridiculously simplistic, linkage drawn between oral contraceptives and what's happening in our rivers and lakes. To derive that the problem is the use of estrogen-based pills, and not inadequate (or perhaps incorrect) treatment of municipal sewage is horrendously dishonest.

The writer overlooks several key points:

1. The impact of various farming practices involving livestock.
2. The technology of wastewater treatment is changing (and yes, filtering out hormones is being investigated actively)
3. A variety of compounds can act "like" an estrogen, and many of these are common outputs of a range of industrial activity.

The real goal of this article is to set out a case for banning hormone-based pills - after all they cause fish to mutate! Yet another chapter in the ongoing campaign of the religious right to roll back the clock and return to an idealized era when the evils of the modern world didn't exist.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

They also infer that there is a secular conspiracy of silence to keep this "fact" quiet.

BTW I think North Battleford, Saskatchewan is one of the few municipalities with their water intake downstream from their discharge. I recall seeing it mentioned in an article about five years ago when they were dealing with some upstream pollution from Edmonton.

[#$@! I've had to enter the word verification 4 times to post this comment! This is ridiculous.]