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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Pill Kills

This campaign is going around the country holding anti-contraception rallies, decrying the horrors of the birth control pill (BCP). Not only does the BCP kill real live babies, but it also kills grown women who take them. Apparently we've lost millions of women to the pill right out from under our noses, thanks to their fatal side effects. Not sure what these are, exactly, but lots of heart and blood stuff, the meanings of which are unclear to me; they just sound like really bad things that BCPs could do. Additionally, the BCP causes "spiritual" and "relationship" side effects, opening the door to marital infidelity and tempting youth into acts of illicit and possibly illegal sex. And you haven't even heard the worst side effect of BCPs: intolerance to contact lenses.


As an aspiring researcher, allow me to dispel the dangers of the abuse of scientific research as in the TPK campaign:

1. The three-page list of physical side effects came from three sources only: footnotes 4, 7, and 8. In fact, this entire campaign is informed by 13 resources, only THREE of which were featured in peer-reviewed journals and FOUR of which were published in religious or anti-abortion media. Also, it seems that nobody informed the brains behind the TPK campaign that newspaper articles do not count as scientific literature.

2. Major source 4 is, of course, a biased source (Eternal Life publications), rendering its findings less-than-credible. All peer-reviewed (read: worth its salt) literature must declare conflicts of interest as a prerequisite for being read by a panel of unbiased experts prior to publication. Considering that this source was not published in a peer-reviewed medium, it's likely crap.

3. Sources 7 and 8 are the drug information inserts from Ortho Tri-Cyclen and Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo pill packs. That is, these are fully disclosed to users of the BCP, as are the risks associated with the pill when combined with certain other pharmaceuticals and medical conditions. As a user, I am fully aware that if I am predisposed to heart/blood problems (I'm not), then I should not take the pill. I also should not smoke or wear contact lenses.

4. NONE of the "research" cited for this campaign uses a longitudinal or cohort study design, meaning that NONE of these findings can determine causality. To say that BCP "causes" any of these problems simply because they share even the most tenuous relationship is a flagrant abuse of research methods and disrupts the integrity of scientific research. For shame.

No need to continue. Just thought I'd point out that there is no theoretical or scientific bases for many of the claims presented in the campaign, much as with anti-abortion campaigns. One that really gets my goat: post-abortion stress syndrome. Anti-abortion activists claim that abortion causes a host of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. See, they interviewed a bunch of women, asked if they had abortions, and then asked if they had any of those problems. And lo, women who had had abortions in the past also tended to have mental health conditions. Jiminy Crickets!

Consider, you non-scientific nutjobs:

1. Directionality! Flip the script, would you; maybe women who suffer from mental conditions are more likely to have abortions. I can think of a few reasons (just a few) why person with a mental illnesses wouldn't want a baby.

2. Social desirability bias! A TREMENDOUS impediment to cross-sectional research, social desirability bias influences respondents to give the answers that they believe researchers and the public would be most happy with. Have I had an abortion before? No way! Do I have a mental illness? You wish!

3. Respondent bias! Maybe women who are more comfortable talking about their issues with mental health are also more comfortable talking about their abortions. Maybe you just happened to get a bunch of these for your sample by some twist of fate. There is no telling how screwed up cross-sectional data can get when you deal with multiple taboo issues at once.

Yikes. Someone send these folks to public health school.


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