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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



  • Bettie M.

    May 26, 2012 5:14 pm

    The use of this ridiculous claim (lack of circumcision predisposes you to “AIDS”) is just one nasty result of the giant lie that a virus somehow causes total breakdown of one’s immune system. People in Africa are stilll dying of the thing that they have been dying of for a very long time – malnutrition, parasites & other aspects of severe poverty. As to homosexuals with “AIDS” in the comfy overfed western world, read Peter Duesberg’s & Brian Ellison’s books as well as “AIDS Inc.” by Rappoport. In case you do not know, the contrarian view of AIDS/HIV espoused by Duesberg and quite a few other scientists is borderline illegal. It’s called “AIDS denialism”. Pretty soon it will be against the law to claim that circumcision has no benefits and that it, indeed, causes serious problems. Just wait. Things are moving that way.

  • Gregory Tutko

    May 27, 2012 10:32 am

    If there is any population sampling, in comparing HIV and circumcision statistics, that clearly shows the truth regarding this issue, no nation is more clearly a proof of the total absence of “protection” from viral transmission in circumcised sexually active men than is the US. 90% of the male population was cut at birth between the 40’s and the 70’s. We had the highest circ’ rate and the highest HIV infection. Not until we woke up to the harm caused did we start to say NO to the medical establishment, both regarding circumcision and childbirth practices as a whole, did the rates begin to change in neo-natal circumcisions. Sadly the HIV rates have not followed. However in Europe, where circumcision is rare, HIV rates are considerably lower as compared to the US. The only reason that the African statistics are being used to argue in favor of universal circumcision is the fees charged by practitioners and the profits to the manufacturers of devices used to perform the mutilations. Let there be no doubt, this is a money making business.

    Bravo to the work you are doing to spread the word. Future generations of intact men will thank you for efforts today. We are all indebted to your efforts.

  • ian wilkinson

    May 27, 2012 7:01 pm

    Sexually Transmitted Infections is another measure of Public Health where infant circumcision has failed the USA when compared to Non-Circumcision nations of Europe. The USA has 1200% higher HIV infections than No-Circ Finland (in Press) has 500% higher HIV infections than No-Circ Germany & 300% higher HIV infections than no-circ Holland. . The USA has 2.7 times the Syphillus infections than than no-circ Holland. . The USA has 33 times the Gonnoreah infections than than no-circ Holland. . The USA has 19 times the Chlamydia infections than No-Circ Holland. Infant Circumcision has failed the USA on the health measure of STI Infection rates.
    (Advocates for Youth data) http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/fsest.pdf

  • Petit Poulet

    May 29, 2012 9:30 pm

    Have seen Andrew Sullivan on “Real Time” with Bill Maher several times. Andrew was on the side of children during the San Francisco ballot initiative, too. If only we could have gotten Christopher Hitchens to join up the Andrew to convince Bill Maher that he needs view circumcision as another way in which religion can mess with our lives.

  • Tagykli

    May 31, 2012 1:20 pm
    • Georganne Chapin

      May 31, 2012 4:22 pm

      Yes, we have read it. This article demonstrates how bad science becomes “fact” and how, in a culture predisposed to removing a normal part of the male anatomy, the bar for “proving” circumcision’s supposed benefit is lower than that for showing circumcision to be worthless or harmful.

      First, the study relies on self-reports of circumcision status, age at first intercourse, and sexually transmitted diseases. All are unreliable. For circumcision status alone, the accuracy of self-reports are +/ – 5 percent; this alone renders statistically insignificant the actual, correctly calculated difference of 2.7% in the two groups.

      Second, the body of medical literature from the U.S. and abroad does not support a lower risk of sexually transmitted diseases in circumcised men.

      Third, given the authors’ own admission that “the exact mechanism remains unknown,” the conclusion requires us to accept that “germs flourishing in the moist environment under the foreskin” somehow leap into the prostate and cause cancer.

      In other words, this article represents a pathetic, speculative, and irresponsible effort to bootstrap non-findings into “evidence” created to bolster the agenda of two well-known promoters of universal circumcision at any cost.

    • myrick

      May 31, 2012 9:29 pm

      The authors are Brian Morris and Jake Waskett. No more need be said.

    • Petit Poulet

      May 31, 2012 10:12 pm

      Morris and Waskett published similar twaddle a couple years ago in the BJU International. Their one-sided data were subsequently revealed to be pablum. Same is true here. The problems is that they are citing studies from decades ago that have long since been refuted. For example, the reason Sweden had more prostate cancer than Israel is because Swedish men were older. The same may be true of the graph in the study as such data has be adjusted for age. It is interesting when a geographic analysis supports the position Morris and Waskett believe in, it is perfectly valid, but when geographic analysis, such as the HIV rate in developed countries being positively correlated with the circumcision rate, they dismiss this form of analysis as unreliable. You have to admit they reached pretty deep when they found the Asian Journal of Andrology to publish their speculations.

  • Chris Weaver (@crweaver987)

    June 1, 2012 11:24 am

    “…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.”

    In other words, Circumcise the Brutes!

  • Rachel

    September 7, 2012 12:05 am

    First of all, I am 100% anti-circumcision and am actually writing a research paper on the subject. One thing I cannot seem to find is why the research in Africa is faulty. I realize that it is bad science, but why?

    Scientists are saying that circumcision reduces the risk of contracting the HIV virus. Why are they saying this and how is the data misused? Can someone fill me in here?

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Marilyn Fayre Milos, multiple award winner for her humanitarian work to end routine infant circumcision in the United States and advocating for the rights of infants and children to genital autonomy, has written a warm and compelling memoir of her path to becoming “the founding mother of the intactivist movement.” Needing to support her family as a single mother in the early sixties, Milos taught banjo—having learned to play from Jerry Garcia (later of The Grateful Dead)—and worked as an assistant to comedian and social critic Lenny Bruce, typing out the content of his shows and transcribing court proceedings of his trials for obscenity. After Lenny’s death, she found her voice as an activist as part of the counterculture revolution, living in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco during the 1967 Summer of Love, and honed her organizational skills by creating an alternative education open classroom (still operating) in Marin County. 

After witnessing the pain and trauma of the circumcision of a newborn baby boy when she was a nursing student at Marin College, Milos learned everything she could about why infants were subjected to such brutal surgery. The more she read and discovered, the more convinced she became that circumcision had no medical benefits. As a nurse on the obstetrical unit at Marin General Hospital, she committed to making sure parents understood what circumcision entailed before signing a consent form. Considered an agitator and forced to resign in 1985, she co-founded NOCIRC (National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers) and began organizing international symposia on circumcision, genital autonomy, and human rights. Milos edited and published the proceedings from the above-mentioned symposia and has written numerous articles in her quest to end circumcision and protect children’s bodily integrity. She currently serves on the board of directors of Intact America.


Georganne Chapin is a healthcare expert, attorney, social justice advocate, and founding executive director of Intact America, the nation’s most influential organization opposing the U.S. medical industry’s penchant for surgically altering the genitals of male children (“circumcision”). Under her leadership, Intact America has definitively documented tactics used by U.S. doctors and healthcare facilities to pathologize the male foreskin, pressure parents into circumcising their sons, and forcibly retract the foreskins of intact boys, creating potentially lifelong, iatrogenic harm. 

Chapin holds a BA in Anthropology from Barnard College, and a Master’s degree in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia University. For 25 years, she served as president and chief executive officer of Hudson Health Plan, a nonprofit Medicaid insurer in New York’s Hudson Valley. Mid-career, she enrolled in an evening law program, where she explored the legal and ethical issues underlying routine male circumcision, a subject that had interested her since witnessing the aftermath of the surgery conducted on her younger brother. She received her Juris Doctor degree from Pace University School of Law in 2003, and was subsequently admitted to the New York Bar. As an adjunct professor, she taught Bioethics and Medicaid and Disability Law at Pace, and Bioethics in Dominican College’s doctoral program for advanced practice nurses.

In 2004, Chapin founded the nonprofit Hudson Center for Health Equity and Quality, a company that designs software and provides consulting services designed to reduce administrative complexities, streamline and integrate data collection and reporting, and enhance access to care for those in need. In 2008, she co-founded Intact America.

Chapin has published many articles and op-ed essays, and has been interviewed on local, national and international television, radio and podcasts about ways the U.S. healthcare system prioritizes profits over people’s basic needs. She cites routine (nontherapeutic) infant circumcision as a prime example of a practice that wastes money and harms boys and the men they will become. This Penis Business: A Memoir is her first book.