Monday is Ideological Conservative Commentary Day over at the Chicago Tribune. The columns by Chicago-based Dennis Byrne and nationally syndicated Charles Krauthammer usually leave me wringing my hands.
One of the nice things about reading the Trib online is that they’re pretty buried on the site, so I can miss them with zero effort. Sadly, when presented with the print edition, I am not so lucky. Headlines like, ‘Why Isn’t This Study on the Pill Heeded?‘ draw both my eye and ire.
Byrne’s argument is that a study published ‘more than a year ago’ by Dr Chris Kahlenborn linking contraceptive pills and breast cancer is getting short shrift in the media:
… I couldn’t find a single reference to it in the archives of the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times or this paper. The Associated Press appears not to have covered it. I couldn’t find a single mainstream media article about it in a Google search.
Byrne notes that Kahlenborn is ‘frustrated’ that he’s not getting ‘important information out to women’ that, according to his study, they’re much more likely to get breast cancer if they use the pill before pregnancy.
What Byrne doesn’t mention until the second to last paragraph is that Kahlenborn is - wait for it - anti-choice. Byrne questions, however, those who feel that ideology might have clouded Kahlenborn’s judgment:
…but what has that to do with his research? As for me, I am not opposed to contraception, oral or otherwise. I am not plotting to get the pill banned. I am not writing this column for hidden religious reasons. I am not saying that the Kahlenborn study is the last word; I’m not a scientist, so I can’t vouch for its methodology or conclusions. Just like the abortion/breast cancer study, I’m writing about it because people have a right to know about the existence of health information, even if it is contradictory to the given wisdom.
Byrne isn’t a scientist, so what could he know about methods? Yet he’s quick to argue at the beginning of his column that Kahlenborn’s study ‘employed an often-used medical research technique called “meta-analysis”‘. He seems to know enough about scientific methods to grant legitimacy to Kahlenborn’s techniques.
So let’s say you don’t read to the end of the article or, say, conduct a brief Google/Google Scholar search. You might never know that Kahlenborn’s work is cited extensively in the anti-contraceptive/anti-abortion literature promulgated by One More Soul, ‘a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading the truth about the blessings of children and the harms of contraception‘. (I’m going to go ahead and leave their copied links in there because they’re great.) Briefly, they’re against contraception for a number of reasons:
The first reason is that the use of contraception leads to abortion.
Also - and I know some of you think I make this stuff up, it’s in the Barrier Methods section - condoms have tiny holes that let the AIDS through.
Without that brief Google search, a Bryne reader might also not know that Kahlenborn’s ‘books’ (the first ‘book’ is a pamphlet), How the Pill and Other Contraceptives Work (1999) and Breast Cancer, Its Link to Abortion and the Birth Control Pill (2000) were both published by One More Soul.*
Kahlenborn might have moved up in the ranks - at least to getting a study published by Mayo - but clearly, clearly there is an ideology at work here. Perhaps those bad reporters at the NYT, et al did what I did - a five minute Google search - and decided that, Mayo or no, this wasn’t news.
Now, I’m no scientist, but I think that a legitimate scientist probably wouldn’t have his work published by an organization that cites a 1992 letter to the editor as proof that condoms have holes. As a scientist, looking to publish my work some seven years later, I would take this as empirical evidence that I should publish elsewhere. Unless, of course, I agreed with their ideas or couldn’t find anyone else to take my work.
Neither of these options makes me grant much legitimacy to Kahlenborn’s work then or now, especially in the face of numerous studies that demonstrate the opposite.
Mr Byrne, I know from your article that you did a Google search on Kahlenborn. Thanks for giving us all the facts - your commitment to the people’s ‘right to know’ is what makes you such a great columnist.
Update: As a legitimate scientist, I probably wouldn’t still be working with the crackpot ‘condoms have holes’ people after my study was released by Mayo. Here’s Kahlenborn’s pamphlet ‘ Newly revised and updated in September 2007′. It’s $0.35, but that drops to $0.21 if you buy 1000 or more.
*- should you wish to purchase Breast Cancer, Its Link to Abortion and the Birth Control Pill (and why wouldn’t you), I suggest buying it from One More Soul’s site for $5.95. The Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer - its other distributor - is selling it for $11.95! Oh, the savings!