Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day Hangover: When Pro-Life is Pro-Choice

Quick. What's the leading cause of death in pregnancy? Cardiovascular collapse? Embolism? Botched delivery?

No. It's botched love.

According to the authors of a longitudinal study conducted at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, homicide is the leading cause of death in pregnant women. The study's authors reviewed 651 autopsy charts from the District of Columbia Chief Medical Examiner’s Office for cases from 1988 until 1996. They found that homicide accounted for nearly 43% of deaths among pregnant women.

The younger the woman the greater the risk.

Who's doing the killing? The study doesn't give clues. But when the Journal of the American Medical Association published the study, it ran an accompanying editorial that called non-lethal violence in pregnancy common. It cited other studies indicating that when any woman is murdered, 8 times out of 10 it is by her intimate partner. JAMA encouraged gynecologists and obstetricians to routinely screen pregnant couples for homicide potential.

Now, what is significant here other than the cold, scary facts?

When doctors worry about the leading causes of death in pregnancy, they should worry about more than just biological causes. Ditto, perhaps, for worry about the causes of birth defects. Because not only are 43% of deaths in pregnancy murders, 25% of pregnant women are physically abused while pregnant. (That last statistic is from the American College of Obstetrics.) With violence rates that high, it's hard to imagine that every birth defect is evidence of bad genetic luck.

Which leads me to ask, not entirely facetiously, whether being pro-life and pro-choice are one and the same.

It all has to do with the “life is sacred” point of view. You see, the violence and murder in pregnancy statistics make atrociously clear that sometimes a woman doesn't hear, "Great, Hon!" in response to "Sweetheart, guess what?" Think what you will about abortion. But especially for very young women, the only way to save a life­ -- her own life ­-- may be to make decisions quickly, privately, self-protectively, and in the nick of time.

This was originally a Vermont Public Radio commentary.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

The First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Scientists

According to a University of California, Berkeley study in the February issue of Political Psychology, when people learn about research findings that run counter to their own political beliefs, they doubt the conclusions. (That's to be expected.) What surprised the UC researchers is that people—particularly politically conservative people—often also question the researcher's objectivity. In the study, survey participants with conservative beliefs tended to attribute scientific data resulting in liberal findings to a researcher's liberalism. At the same time, they were less likely to conclude that conservative findings were due to a researcher's conservatism.

So that could explain why the Republican Congress was so slow to act on Global Warming, and why they got so explosively red in the face when they were accused of nattering on pig-headedly about the whole thing. It could also explain why Bush's White House self-righteously muzzled scientists in general on many issues, and smiled when they did so. And it also may shed light on a more recent hairy tussle between The Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Attorney General of Connecticut. From the Abstract of "Science, Politics, and Values: The Politicization of Professional Practice Guidelines" in Journal of the American Medical Association (Feb 11, vol. 301, #6):

"The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) issued updated clinical practice guidelines in 2006 for the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease.1 Within days, the Connecticut attorney general launched an investigation, alleging IDSA had violated state antitrust law by recommending against the use of long-term antibiotics to treat 'chronic Lyme disease (CLD),' a label applied by advocates to a variety of nonspecific symptoms for which frequently no evidence suggests the etiologic agent of Lyme disease is responsible. The IDSA was forced to settle the claim to avoid exorbitant litigation costs, even though the society's guidelines were based on sound science. The case exemplifies the politicization of health policy, with elected officials advocating for health policies against the weight of scientific evidence. [Emphasis mine.]

Unlike Bush, Obama "gets" global warming. He also gets the need to put scientists in charge of the national debates on health, energy, and technology policy. But will Republican Senators and Representatives reflexively gridlock progress if and when scientists like our new Nobel-laureate Energy Secretary, with full transparency, lead the nation in ways that run counter to conservative political beliefs? Should we expect conservatives to assume that the nation's most eminent scientists are unscientific?


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Friday, February 06, 2009

Leader of My Pack

Let me begin by assuring you that my dog mended, though she still has a huge hitch in her walk, and her back legs go faster now than her front ones, giving her a John Wayne lope.

Jeanette is a miniature beagle, bred, I'm told, to ride in the saddlebags of horses on the hunt. Her "saddlebag equivalent," she thinks, is the front passenger seat of my Subaru.

For 12 years now, whenever my kids and I have driven away without her, her brain has seized with compulsion to join the hunt. Jeanette has chewed through her crate and a fancy French door in her efforts to reach us. She digs under fences. She wriggles out of leads.

On a hot day one summer back in her third year, I didn't put Jeanette in her crate when we all left for the town pool. I knew she'd chew through it anyway, so I left her outside. When she looked like she wanted to follow, I sternly said "No," put pedal to metal, and tried to outrun her with my car. Long after I thought we'd left her behind, we all felt a big bump.

“What was that?” the kids asked when I slowed the car to a stop.

With my eyes glued on the rear-view mirror, where I could see a small tri-color mass lying in the middle of the road, I blurted out, "I killed the dog". Well, not quite. I almost killed the dog. But with my pre-emptive announcement I did throw the children into a frenzy.

When I loaded Jeanette into my wayback, she was jerking her head, voiceless, an accusing jitter in her eyes. The children were not at all able to follow my suggestions that they not look and that they please quiet down and think wonderful thoughts to give Jeanette some peace. Kora, our 7-year-old friend, saved my sanity by suggesting that we all say, "Good girl, Jeanette." Ben, my 6-year-old, sobbed the phrase like a mantra. Katie, my 10-year-old, wailed it angrily. The vet’s office down the road was closed. I raced into town, through a senseless traffic jam, and on, frantically searching for someone who could help.

And as I drove, I heard Kora tell Jeanette that her white light was getting brighter. And then Jeanette started to whimper. Softly. Then loudly. The dog that I thought had seconds to live had some animation by the time we reached a vet. Soon enough she was home from a week-long stay in an ICU. By Week Two she had full control of the left side of her body and was gaining some control of the right.

Everything happens for a reason, right? Well, no—but I am relieved to paraphrase Samuel Clemens. "The reports of Jeanette's death were greatly exaggerated." And I learned a lesson, for which I am deeply grateful. As a parent, I am the leader of a small pack--the children (Katie and Ben), and Jeanette, our dog. Jeanette has taught me that a difficult pack member only gets more difficult if the leader gives up and fails to follow through on reasonable restrictions. Jeanette was, for the rest of that summer, quite literally my constant and well-deserved burden. (I had to carry her around in a baby sling). Things turned out that way because I had failed to contain her the way she needed to be contained. But because I learned my lesson well enough, my sometimes difficult children—now in their mid and late teens--will never suffer the consequences of my failing to say "No", mean "No", and enforce "No” ... no matter how strongly they rebel.

Because Jeanette escapes crates, fences, and leads, more than one friend has suggested that I rename her "Houdini." I won't. I may actually rename her "Consequences," though. "Consequences"--as in "We reap exactly what we, in our equivocations, sew". In flights of fancy I stand on my back porch each night, gratefully calling my "Consequences" home.

This was originally part of the Vermont Public Radio "Commentary" series.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

In Discover this Month: 20 Things You Didn't Know about Television

In February's Discover Magazine:

1 Fade to black: On February 17, television stations will broadcast only digital signals, ending the run of the TV system used in the United States for the past 55 years.

2 The digital television signal can transmit pictures composed of up to 1,080 lines. That’s a long way from the first TV, demonstrated by John Logie Baird in 1926. It used just 30 lines to create a coarse image.

3 Baird’s television looked like a peep-show device, held together with scrap wood, darning needles, string, and sealing wax. His invention was partly mechanical, relying on a spinning metal disk with a spiral of holes to chop up images for transmission.

See 4-20.