Skepchick Quickies, 7.21


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. Ok, the little mermaid thing was hilarious… messed up, but hilarious.

    The one that got me, though, was superstition and lucky charms. I’m a role-player, and one of my enduring fascinations is dice superstitions. People arrange their dice with all their best numbers up. One guy who would continually tap his dice to try and get the best numbers. People who go nuts if you touch their dice. Pools of “plonk” dice to loan people who forget them. Giving away dice that are bad for you but good for someone else.

    It’s just fascinating to me, even though I do a lot of it myself.

  2. @Mark Hall: I play a lot of games, and one of my favorite things to do is to “jinx” important rolls. If someone will succeed as long as they don’t roll below a ‘5’ I always say, “well, there’s no way that’ll happen!” and the like.

  3. I used to be all for the whole circumsision in Africa thing. However after watching a series of videos on youtube by user ‘freedom0speech'(the 0 in the center is a zero), I’m not sure what to think about the issue.

    He cites numorous studies that imply the benefit of male circumsision is overhyped. I have been too lazy to actually check his claims, but I’m curius if anyone here has. It seems like providing condoms and educating people on how to use them may be a more cost effective means of HIV control.

  4. @Mark Hall:

    I play D&D and I’m not superstitious at all, but most of my friends are. When I first started I just borrowed dice every time, and then decided to just order the cheapest set I could find on Ebay. My friend was horrified and insisted that I have to go to a shop and physically touch the dice and roll them a few times to find the lucky ones. So she bought me a set for my birthday and after using them for awhile, she asked me what I thought of the dice she picked out. I said, “They seem pretty random, just like they should be”. Everyone thought it was a joke but I was being serious. Still, maybe I got through to someone.

  5. I have much the same reaction to va-tooing as to vajazzling: meh. It’s lame and silly. Still better than women who think they need labiaplasty or to dye their labia because they aren’t pink enough (we’ll leave out genital piercings and real vulva tatoos because those aren’t generally done because you feel inadequate).

    I’ll say the same about male circumcision in Africa as I do about all of these types of things: as long as it’s a consenting adult getting the procedure it’s none of my business. I only have issues when it’s an unconsenting child. The research on circumcision and HIV transmission is strong. Sure it would be nice if everyone in Africa used condoms unless they’re in a monogamous relationship and have been tested. However human nature doesn’t work that way and until we have an effective vaccine for HIV all methods of prevention should be encouraged whether it’s condoms, circumcision, or the new gel that’s been in the news.

  6. I have a problem with the good luck charm study. It did not use people who don’t have good luck charms as a control. This study measured performance of people with charms, vs. people whose charms had been removed . Perhaps people who use good luck charms actually get worse in their absence.

  7. @Kelley: Someone’s forgetting the pope’s little speech…

    This is Africa we’re talking about. These people don’t have the best sex ed and have witch-doctors telling people HIV doesn’t exist. I am against unnecessary circumcision, but I am for saving 4 million lives.

  8. I’d really like to read that study on male circumcision. How was it done? How did they calculate the 60% risk reduction? And is it over a person’s entire lifetime?
    I certainly prefer condoms myself (although technically jewish, I’m not circumcised*) and wouldn’t wish it forced on anyone athough, you understand, I’m completely A-OK with offering it to consenting adults.
    As far as I know, the problem with condoms in the 3rd world is mainly one of logistics: Actually getting quality condoms into the hands of the people who need them. I could be wrong, though.

    *And y’all can have my foreskin when you take it out of my cold, dead hands!

  9. Oh, and I too am a gamer geek. I’m an utterly unsuperstitious geek, though. The best dice are the ones that are white with black numbers or vice versa. Not because they roll better but because they’re the easiest to read.
    Also, you get the best dice luck by rolling on your character sheet and the character sheet confers bad luck until you’ve spilled at least one kind of beverage on it.

  10. The superstition article reminds me of a radio lab story that was on NPR. It was from WNYC and dated february 29, 2008 (I saved it) all about self deception. Among the claims in this very interesting story were that people who deceive themselves are overall less depressed and happier in their lives, and that some of the most practiced at self deception are athletes, who have to convince themselves they are stronger or faster than the competition, or have some other “edge” (like a lucky charm) in order to give their best performance. I don’t remember specifics, but I’m going to play that program today .
    I would think that practicing a little self deception would be useful in athletic endeavors, as you might push yourself a little harder in order to prove yourself right. I can’t see superstition in a role playing game that relies on dice making much of a difference, because it would seem to be based on straight up probability……but I’m not a gamer, so I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

  11. <3<3<3RadioLab<3<3<3

    And if circumcision prevented HIV/AIDS, wouldn't they have a lot more cases in places where people don't usually get circumcised, like England? But according to this: http://www.avert.org/worldstats.htm
    0.4% adult prevalence in North America
    0.3% adult prevalence in Western & Central Europe

    The article on healthzone linked to an article from the WHO about mother-to-child HIV transmission, not about circumcision. Smells like stinky science journalism to me. ( on teh internetz?? noooooo!!!!1)

  12. I’m all for letting anyone who wants to vajazzle and vattoo to their hearts content.

    And I thought only the original little mermaid story was horrible, and am glad to see the Disney version is gruesome as well.

  13. @nichole: To add on to what Kimbo Jones said: UK and North America have abundant access to cheap condoms along with better availability of testing and treatment (recent research says that those on anti-retroviral therapy have a reduced risk of spreading HIV to partners). HIV has also been spreading in those areas for a shorter amount of time, mostly among men who have sex with men and IV drug users. In Africa HIV is in the larger heterosexual population which facilitates it’s spread.

  14. I’ve gotten a little bit anti-superstitious in my dice selection, recently (I tend to have one or two sets associated with a certain character, but that’s aesthetics, not luck), and use them more or less exclusively with that character. If dice get lost or damaged, the rest of the set goes in “the box”, which is dice I’m not using.

  15. I play D&D too, and I’m just glad my friends aren’t superstitious. A few may be, I guess, but it isn’t noticeable. We’re for the most part a non-superstitious group. We tend to share dice. My best friend’s old dice are now “mine” but only because I’m cheap. :)

  16. @Noadi: I don’t think the point of Nicole’s post was to compare either North America or Europe with Africa but to compare them with each other. If circumcision really prevents AIDS, then you would expect NA to have lower rates, not higher rates.

    But comparisons *within* a group are fraught with problems when you try to extrapolate them *between* groups. There are just too many confounding factors. For a blast from the past, see Herrnstein’s and Jensen’s twin studies on the heritability of intelligence.

    Maybe a minor nit about journalistic style, but this might reflect a pervasive deep understanding of statistics… You always see statements like “Research cited by the World Health Organization has shown that male circumcision can reduce a man’s risk of getting HIV by up to 60 percent.” If this is a single study, then it would have produced one number as a result. There is no “up to” about it. If it was a metastudy, then it would have produced an average result and a range which both should been reported. (The link just goes to WHO’s home page, so is useless for discovering which study the article is citing.) Or maybe the author was just using “up to” as weasel words so they couldn’t be called on it if it turns out to be 3% instead of 60%. (Or maybe she was quoting an actual summary or press release about the study, which are other havens for weasel words.)

    Lastly, I’m not a statistician, but is 60% really that much? For example, if you reduce your risk of acquiring AIDS from 10% to 4%, but have unprotected sex 100 times, you’ve reduced your chances of getting AIDS from 99.997% to 98.3%. (Since I can’t find the 60% study, I just made up the 10% chance of getting AIDS number.) Though if the chance of getting AIDS uncircumcised is 1%, and you can reduce that to .4%, than after having otherwise unprotected sex with a HIV-positive women 100 times, you reduce your chances of getting AIDS from 63% to 33%. Without real numbers (transmission rates, infection rates, effectiveness of circumcision, number of partners, etc.) it is impossible to judge, but the whole thing sounds pretty dodgy to me.

  17. The anxiety theory of magic/religion sums up what the researchers found in the superstition study. I teach that in my intro to cultural anthropology class. Magic/religion “works” because it reduces anxiety, so people are then more successful. Look up George Gmelch’s article “Baseball Magic” for lots of interesting examples.

  18. @Buzz Parsec: “I don’t think the point of Nicole’s post was to compare either North America or Europe with Africa but to compare them with each other.”

    And if the only differences between North America and Central and Western Europe were circumcision rates, she’d have a great point.

    However, there are numerous other differences. Sex ed, for example, is almost certainly better on average in Europe than in North America due to the christian right’s much smaller influence here.

  19. @ Noadi & Kimbo:

    Right, all other things being about the same, if circumcision actually helped to prevent HIV/AIDS, you’d think there’d be a difference in prevalence.

    & @ Rei:

    And Europe has socialized medicine, you’d think their detection rates would be better than ours since just about everyone has access to health care.

    Look, I can see that a lot of you guys are pro-genital mutilation and anti-genital decoration… I just can’t understand it. I’d like to see some actual evidence. I keep seeing this “60% prevention” figure tossed around, and nobody’s citing a source other than “scientific trials.”

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