When Bad Science Kills

Earlier this week, blogger and intactivist Andrew Sullivan posted a short piece titled Circumcision Spreads HIV? on his blog, the Daily Beast. Sullivan’s post is brief, but his message is critically important: the “African studies” being used as “evidence” to promote circumcision as HIV prevention are bogus, and the promotion of circumcision will actually increase HIV deaths. Sullivan cites an excellent new article by Oxford University’s Brian Earp, titled A fatal irony: Why the “circumcision solution” to the AIDS epidemic in Africa will increase transmission of HIV.  Earp calls the pro-circumcision camp’s African trials “bad science at its most dangerous.”

“We are talking about poorly conducted experiments with dubious results presented in an outrageously misleading fashion. These data are then harnessed to support public health recommendations on a massive scale whose implementation would almost certainly have the opposite of the claimed effect, with fatal consequences.”

Earp goes on to explain why the trials are faulty, and how they show that mass circumcision will actually increase the spread of HIV.

I have felt for years that the entire campaign to circumcise Africa (because that’s what it is—it’s not true, unbiased research) stinks to high heaven. It’s medical imperialism at its worst (see my February 8 post, The Business of Circumcision, Indeed).

Since its founding in 2009, Intact America has been a small but important dissenting voice on this issue. We have looked at the ethics, the methodology, and the data produced by the crowd of mostly American, mostly circumcised scientists and social scientists who seem to feel that Africans cannot possibly be persuaded to use condoms, and that it’s ok to expose women to HIV if their male partners refuse to be tested and are circumcised nonetheless.

In 2009, we went to the Centers for Disease Control HIV Prevention meeting in Atlanta, and confronted the pro-circumcision CDC officials about their unethical promotion of circumcision for African men—the same officials who decry the genital cutting of women. We were instrumental in getting the CDC to refrain from releasing recommendations about circumcision as HIV prevention. And we have put the American Academy of Pediatrics on notice that any attempt to use the “African studies” to bolster the practice of infant circumcision in the United States will be met with serious exposure of that trade association’s ethical bankruptcy on the issue of circumcision.

Along with Intact America, people like Sullivan and Earp know the truth about the pro-circumcision camp conducting and promoting the “African studies.” They see the blatant disregard for informed consent; the misrepresentation of risk in absolute rather than relative terms; the deliberate non-disclosure of data that suggests the superior efficacy of benign, non-surgical methods of prevention; and the unbridled enthusiasm for mutilating the genitals of black Africans—all of which makes the Tuskegee syphilis experiment look like a warm-up exercise. The word is finally getting out: Circumcising Africa WILL KILL AFRICANS. Please read Andrew’s blog post as well as the Oxford article, and share them on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks. People need to know the truth behind these trials, and the truth that circumcision does not prevent HIV.

Georganne Chapin