More on Circumcision

Not everybody is satisfied by the methods employed in the study I posted two days ago (click here for my first post (see comment section there for links to more debates)). This here is a short, but well substantiated repudiation of the article:

In conclusion, despite a poorly representative sample and methods prone to exaggerating the sensitivity of the prepuce, NOCIRC’s claims remain unconfirmed. When the authors’ data are analysed properly, no significant differences exist. Thus the claim that circumcision adversely affects penile sensitivity is poorly supported, and this study provides no evidence for the belief that circumcision adversely affects sexual pleasure.

from “Fine-Touch Pressure Thresholds in the adult Penis” (Waskett, J. H. and Morris, B. J. (2007), FINE-TOUCH PRESSURE THRESHOLDS IN THE ADULT PENIS. BJU International, 99: 1551–1552)

On Circumcision

The glans of the circumcised penis is less sensitive to fine touch than the glans of the uncircumcised penis. The transitional region from the external to the internal prepuce is the most sensitive region of the uncircumcised penis and more sensitive than the most sensitive region of the circumcised penis. Circumcision ablates the most sensitive parts of the penis.

from the study “Fine-touch pressure thresholds in the adult penis” (Sorrells ML, Snyder JL, Reiss MD, et al. “Fine-touch pressure thresholds in the adult penis”. BJU Int 2007;99:864-9.)


Michael Fitzpatrick makes a good, but still too careful point in this opinion piece in the New Scientist.

THE epithet “denier” is increasingly used to bash anyone who dares to question orthodoxy. Among other things, deniers are accused of subordinating science to ideology. In his book Denialism: How irrational thinking hinders scientific progress, harms the planet, and threatens our lives, for example, Michael Specter argues that denialists “replace the rigorous and open-minded scepticism of science with the inflexible certainty of ideological commitment”.

How ironic. The concept of denialism is itself inflexible, ideological and intrinsically anti-scientific. It is used to close down legitimate debate by insinuating moral deficiency in those expressing dissident views, or by drawing a parallel between popular pseudoscience movements and the racist extremists who dispute the Nazi genocide of Jews.

The incredible wave of secular Catholicism, of stubborn, closed minds, that not only accept academic consensus as gospel Truth, but that also brand everyone with a different opinion as a fool, without, usually, ever really engaging with these opinions in a fair and open manner. After all, we know that everything sounds better with science, and pseudo-scientific explanations, no matter how hackneyed, are now the go-to response in all areas, and other voices are drowned out in ridicule and tags like “denier”. To quote Fitzpatrick again

As Skidelsky says, “the extension of the ‘denier’ tag to group after group is a development that should alarm all liberal-minded people”. What we need is more debate, not less.

Everything sounds better with Science!

Some recent nonsense (especially the publication of The Male Brain, the newest installment of what one expects again to be the usual dose of bad science by Louann Brizendine), and the generally dismissive attitude towards alleged ‘non-scientific’ knowledge that swamps so much impoverished contemporary intellectual discourse, have reminded me of “The seductive allure of neuroscience explanation“, a 2008 article in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. Here is the abstract:

Explanations of psychological phenomena seem to generate more public interest when they contain neuroscientific information. Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people’s abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation. We tested this hypothesis by giving naïve adults, students in a neuroscience course, and neuroscience experts brief descriptions of psychological phenomena followed by one of four types of explanation, according to a 2 (good explanation vs. bad explanation) x 2 (without neuroscience vs. with neuroscience) design. Crucially, the neuroscience information was irrelevant to the logic of the explanation, as confirmed by the expert subjects. Subjects in all three groups judged good explanations as more satisfying than bad ones. But subjects in the two non-expert groups additionally judged that explanations with logically irrelevant neuroscience information were more satisfying than explanations without. The neuroscience information had a particularly striking effect on non-experts’ judgments of bad explanations, masking otherwise salient problems in these explanations.

(via the always excellent Language Log)

Human capacities

On his blog, Stanley Fish reviews Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s new book, Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion. Smith is a marvelous writer, who is generally admired in this household and her new book sounds intriguing as well.

Her point, stated frequently and in the company of careful readings of those who might reject it, is that while science and religion exhibit different models, offer different resources, display different limitations and enter into different relationships of support and (historically specific) antagonism, they are not, and should not be seen as, battle-to-the-death opponents in a cosmic struggle. Nor are they epistemologically distinct in a way that leaves room for only one of them in the life of an individual or a society: “There is nothing that distinguishes how we produce and respond to Gods from how we produce and respond to a wide variety of other social-cognitive constructs ubiquitous in human culture and central to human experience.” Which is not to say that science and religion are the same, only that that their very different efforts to conceptualize and engage with very different challenges have a common source in human capacities and limitations.

Academics Cannot Surf

I recently remarked on identity politics on this blog. This is another case.

Apparently, it’s fine to headline an article Has A Surfer/Snowboarder Who Lives In A Van Rewritten Physics?, or “SURFER DUDE STUNS PHYSICISTS WITH THEORY OF EVERYTHING” or “COULD THE NEXT EINSTEIN BE A SURFER DUDE?” or surf’s theory of everything, even if you talk about a guy who is “40 years old and possess[es] a Ph.D. in theoretical physics”, who “posted an academic paper called “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything” to, a site for scientists that’s maintained by Cornell University” and who “began presenting his theory at conferences last year, and many well-regarded physicists found it interesting, even plausible”.

But nooo. He’s a surfer dude.

Let me tell you something. If I continue working odd jobs as I do now, never find my way into an academic career, but work on complex theories of literary criticism daily, for 15 years, attend professional conferences and publish my results in an academic paper, and you call me a “surfer dude” (or something like it), I will bloody your nose.

That said, the article linked above is an engrossing read and highly recommended.