Quickies

Skepchick Quickies 6.21

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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  1. You know, while agree that the difference between Americans and the French, or anyone really, is highly over-hyped, I would point out that the differences with regard to pregnancy is being over-hyped in this very article. The list of things to avoid that was provided is almost exclusively about not getting sick; only alcohol and coffee are added because of their direct effects and both can be consumed in moderation according to most doctors (though they would be reluctant to say so publicly for fear of condoning overindulgence, not to mention the outcry of “concern groups”; and no I don’t have statistics).
    I think American women have been frightened into avoiding anything that could possible impact their fetus to the point of absurdity at times; I don’t know much about the situation in France beyond this article but by what was said here they may be just a bit incautious. As far as the infant mortality rates; there is not enough info to even speculate a causal relationship though I would postulate universal health care as being a far bigger factor than mothers’ behavior.
    Of course you want to avoid getting sick while your pregnant but getting your flu shot will help you far more than avoiding ice cream; besides, what would you eat with your pickles?

    1. I could understand the ‘condoning overindulgence’ statement – but I think there might be a bit more to it then that. When it comes to the North American’s (women and men, because many men start to get suddenly concerned with their partner’s diet during pregnancy) being scared off of certain materials completely by health agencies, I think that really has to do with the limited information that we have about substances and their affect on pregnancy. Not limited information on what can cause complications or defects – that is where those ‘avoid’ lists come from – but the amount of the substance that would be required to cause issues.
      .
      For example, it is known that drinking alcohol during pregnancy cause lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. However, how much alcohol would someone need to drink in order for the baby to have issues? What would be the tipping point (less then X = ok, greater then x = bad). I’m pretty sure no tests in a controlled environment with pregant women has ever been performed (and really, really shouldn’t be performed- that would be up there on the unethical experiments list) and testimony from women who had complications could be considered unreliable (most would probably underestimate how much they have drank). So since we don’t know the amount, its much safer to just state not to have any at all.
      .
      (If this sounds familiar, I recall reading this in book – maybe ‘Bad Science’ – but I can’t recall for sure. Just want to point out that it’s not my original thought :) )
      .
      .
      I guess the proviso to this ‘amount’ statment would be what DisplacedNortherner mentioned down the thread – that some foods can be susceptible to Listeria. I guess in those cases, there is actually no scientific limit set to the amount that could be consumed – it could be your your 1000th piece of Brie consumed that had Listera on it – the other 999 did not ‘build up’ to that event. End result from health agencies = Don’t Eat Brie.

      1. Exactly. Because of all of those variables a doctor might say to a patient that they can have the occasional glass of wine or cup of coffee but wouldn’t come out and say it to the general public.
        I’m not saying that the things on the list are there for no reason,just that the actual effects of each one is hard to quantify.

  2. I love the idea of Grief Beyond Belief but something was brought up in the comments there that gets under my skin.
    The first reply pointed out how atheism isn’t a replacement for religion (agreed) and that we turn to people to comfort us in times of need (also agreed) but then the commenter went on to say ” it has never made sense to me, that if religion is real to believers, that they grieve at all”; this is a canard that is brought up all the time that I wish we would stop using.
    Of course the religious grieve when a loved-one dies, and for the same reason atheists do, it’s all about us; it doesn’t matter if someone truly believes that the deceased is “in a better place” because that person is missed, the same reason we are sad if someone moves far away and hasn’t even died.
    .
    No wonder we gnu-atheists are sometimes looked at as callous; sometimes we are.

    1. Well, to be fair, the level of grief one feels for a loved one moving far, far away and that of a loved one dying greatly differs in intensity.

      Besides, regardless of what beliefs one professes, a part of a person likely realizes that there is no way of actually knowing what comes after death which is why people create comforting myths and stories in the first place. It could be that death being such a brutal event just makes it even more difficult to cling to those comforts. That just shows that most people don’t truly, 100% give themselves over to their beliefs. Voluntary suicide bombers, however … well, who can doubt their sincerity?

  3. I appreciate the intent of the article about being pregnant in France; but ah France, where getting a vasectomy or a tubal ligation is still illegal, has some ownership issues regarding your sex parts as well. Also the regular mentioning of statistics showing the disparity of infant deaths in the US compared to other countries, where they count live births and deaths of newborn infants in a significantly different manner, is getting tedious.

    Also when it comes to how atheists/skeptics deal with grief one of the first discussions should be how the “stages of grief” theory is one colossally sloppy and poorly supported pieces of mental health theorizing which has nothing to do with those grieving over losing someone close but were stages Kubler-Ross identified that the dying were going through prior to their own deaths. Developing a supportive community and having a place to discuss grief however sounds like a great idea.

    1. Definitely agree on the infant mortality statistics; I groaned a little as I read it. While I definitely agree that pregnant women are ridiculously constrained in the United States and that the financial cost of even healthy motherhood is exorbitant, I wish people wouldn’t bring up statistics they don’t understand.

      From a 2006 article from Dr. Bernadine Healy:

      First, it’s shaky ground to compare U.S. infant mortality with reports from other countries. The United States counts all births as live if they show any sign of life, regardless of prematurity or size. This includes what many other countries report as stillbirths. In Austria and Germany, fetal weight must be at least 500 grams (1 pound) to count as a live birth; in other parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, the fetus must be at least 30 centimeters (12 inches) long. In Belgium and France, births at less than 26 weeks of pregnancy are registered as lifeless. And some countries don’t reliably register babies who die within the first 24 hours of birth. Thus, the United States is sure to report higher infant mortality rates. For this very reason, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which collects the European numbers, warns of head-to-head comparisons by country.

  4. Interesting…now that I think about it, I never felt excluded from ‘hyperwhite’ nerd ‘culture’ myself, but I wonder if that might have to do with me being of Asian descent. In fact, I recall some groups in college seemed overly inclusive (otaku) when it came to that.

    Sorry guys, I’m just not all that fond of Ranma 1/2

  5. I’m an ob and I agree in large part with the French vs American story. I have friends who are pregnant and I couldn’t believe the list of things they were avoiding. Many items on the list are there to avoid exposure to listeria- which is not extremely common. Additionally, most of the cases of listeria I have seen were contracted through bagged lettuce or spinach (there was a recent outbreak last winter in the bagged greens). I know for my own pregnancy, I won’t be avoiding many cheeses or coffee- although it’s entirely possible I could go 40 weeks without eating any greens.

    1. I should point out why listeria is a concern in pregnancy- about a third of pregnant women who develop real, culture proven listeriosis will have a fetal demise. So it’s understandable why physicians in the litigious US want tell their patients to avoid deli meats. It’s just that the likelihood of exposure in developed countries is so low, it lowers the absolute risk.

  6. There’s no winning. American women who are pregnant are simply too stupid to know what they want or what to do. If you drink, you’re a monster. If you don’t, you’re a smug idiot flaunting your motherhood martyrdom. Any mention of anything you’re giving up is met with “Oh I/someone I know did that through her whole pregnancy and my/her kid is now in Harvard!”

    But any of the vices you don’t give up are signs that you’re clearly not ready for motherhood. You can’t even give up a cup of coffee? And anything and everything that goes wrong in your pregnancy is your fault.

  7. Revenge of the Feminerd: Nerd “Hyperwhiteness”

    This has got to be one of the most idiotic articles I have ever read on Skepchick. I came from a high school wherein nerds (including me) included kids of various ethnic backgrounds both white and non-white. Indeed, nerds included Indians, Pakistanis, Japanese, Chinese, Jamaicans, Jews, etc.. And the title of “nerd” was not something we wore with pride nor did we feel in any way superior to any other group. We were considered uncool and disliked by everyone just because we all had a desire to do extremely well in school. And this “offended” all the assholes who were lazy bums who couldn’t give shit about science or math. We were all constantly bullied for wanting to succeed. And who had it the worst? The black nerd girls were tormented the most and these kids came from families who emigrated to Canada for a better life and opportunities. I always hated high school because of this and all that changed once I hit med school wherein being a nerd was cool no matter what color you are. I think Mary Bucholtz is a twit. I’d rather have liked to have seen an article that is a rallying cry for nerds everywhere that we are cool for wanting to study.

  8. For what it’s worth, as a well known pisspot myself, just to add to @Dupes comments above, I had a look at the Wikipedia article on FAS (that great scientific journal!).
    In fact there seems to be a fairly sharp cutoff at 14 standard drinks per week above which the risk of FAS becomes acute, and below which the risk is minimal.
    The other cutoff mentioned was intake to 100mg/dL blood alcohol once a week (5-6 beers.

  9. I love Wikipedia – it’s usually always a good place to start looking into new topics :)
    .
    I’m glad that studies were/are being performed on this issue, but I’m not going to take it at full face value. One reference to that number mentioned that they acquired the data through a literary review of 3 seperate journals (over 3 time frames, somewhat overlapping). While there are benefits in a such a review, I’m not sure if you would get as clear picture as an actual (again, very unethical) direct study. (There *might* be a direct case study in there somewhere, but I couldn’t tell from the summary).
    .
    As for the other entry referenced – it is clear that they were being very careful with their language (i.e Yes, 1 beer a day is probably ok, but low-blood alcohol content has been seen to cause defects in….). Even that recommendation came with a boat load of provisos :)
    .
    Even though this is a very serious issue, there was one statement in wikipedia (extracted right from one of the references) that made me chuckle a bit:
    “Pregnant women who consume approximately 18 drinks per day have a 30-33% chance of having a baby with FAS.”
    .
    I’m not sure if the ‘per day’ is a one time binge drinking or taking that amount for several days over an extended period of time – but if it is an extended period of time, that is liver-damaging amout of booze!

  10. I think what she’s calling “hyperwhiteness” just boils down to an obsession with correctness. There’s some elitism in it, but I’ve seldom seen it arranged around race, but around being right, even if what you’re being right about is pointless minutiae. For example, a couple nights ago I wrote 1300 words comparing a 1st level fighter and a 1st level cleric for a game I don’t even play. I don’t give a damn what color people are on the other end of the line… I just care that they are wrong and only I can set them right.

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