Tagged: blinded me with science

It shouldn’t need saying – #IAmNotADisease

We’ve been here before, people.

Now the American Medical Association has decided that obesity is a “disease”.

some doctors and obesity advocates said that having the nation’s largest physician group make the declaration would focus more attention on obesity.

Because you know, we as a society spend no time at all on the topic of weight and health and how disgusting and evil fat people are.

The first technical problem is that there’s no single definition of what a “disease” is – so sorry, fat-haters, you don’t really get “but SCIENCE!” free rein to keep hating on people whose bodies you dislike.  From the article linked above:

To some extent, the question of whether obesity is a disease or not is a semantic one, since there is not even a universally agreed upon definition of what constitutes a disease. And the A.M.A.’s decision has no legal authority.

The second is that the AMA contradicted its own committee of experts on public health:

The report panned body mass index as a proxy for obesity, saying it’s limited as a stand-alone. Furthermore, calling obesity a disease may undermine prevention efforts and will do little to impact its treatment, the report said.

“Without a single, clear, authoritative, and widely accepted definition of disease, it is difficult to determine conclusively whether or not obesity is a medical disease state,” the council told the AMA’s policy-making House of Delegates. “Similarly, a sensitive and clinically practical diagnostic indicator of obesity remains elusive.”

The third is all about following the money, because the initial report above clearly states:

And [the declaration] could help improve reimbursement for obesity drugs, surgery and counseling.

i.e. could make it a lot easier for fat people to pay for drugs which don’t work, undergo dangerous surgery which doesn’t work, and be convinced they need therapy for their existence.

The weight cycling industry in the US alone is worth $66 billion a year.  And yet it has not delivered a significant decrease in fatness in the US population.  If someone were making $66 billion a year and only returning illusory results  to its investors, we’d call it a Ponzi scheme and throw people in jail for it.

But the overwhelming issue is, of course, that my body is not a disease.  Being fat is a characteristic of my body, like my eye colour, like my hair colour, like my skin tone.  It is strongly influenced by genetics, just like my foot size (not a disease) and the shape of my ass (way too awesome to be a disease).

People always want to say “but I’m not talking about you, it’s just that obesity is linked blah blah blah”.

You’re lying, people.  Maybe you’re lying to yourself, too, and do honestly believe that you’re a judgement-free snowflake whose only flaw is caring too much.  But you’re lying nevertheless.

As has already been covered on far too many occasions, height is “linked” with plenty of health issues.  Different ethnic and geographic backgrounds are linked with health issues – and we don’t say “let’s declare “spending your childhood in New Zealand” a disease” in order to “focus more attention” on iodine deficiencies.

We are, in many (but not all) other spheres, quite able to treat health issues on their own without demonizing the associated characteristics of the people who have those health issues.  We do it for fat because we’ve accepted the idea that (a) fatness is controllable (despite reams and decades of scientific research to the contrary) and thus blameable, and (b) the “links” between weight and certain health issues is rock-hard and invariable, as opposed to the “links” between height and Alzheimer’s disease, which are just random, blameless flukes of nature.

When you talk about “obesity”, you’re talking about my entire life.  Because the only way I will ever be not-fat, ironically, is if I am sick and that sickness, or the cure-or-kill-you treatment for it, causes unnatural, damaging weightloss which will reverse itself once I’m not sick – yep, being healthy would make me gain weight again.

You don’t “cure” obesity without killing me, and everyone else who’s fat.  You don’t call obesity “a disease” without labelling every single fat person as inherently sick.  And we’re not.


Mandatory links because I just know you’re out there waiting to whinge about “but SCIENCE!”:  Big Liberty’s Truth Behind Fat page.  Dr Charlotte Cooper spins it on its head to say Yes, I am a disease.

Mythbusters team charged with multiple felonies after video evidence comes to light

In shocking news today, the crew of the smash hit Discovery Channel show Mythbusters were arrested in Polk County, Florida, after over 200 hours of graphic video footage was seized by the Sheriff’s office.

This footage is reported to show the team – who have previously passed themselves off as fun-loving larrikins promoting scientific knowledge to a broad audience by scientifically testing myths and urban legends – setting off a series of increasingly devastating explosions, with the estimated damage to property and pig carcasses totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars.  In one video, they appear to test the effectiveness of store-bought ammunition against commuter aircraft.

The Sheriff’s department has also released provocative images of one team member constructing what appears to be a long-range assault cannon using a popular diet soda and candy.

A spokesman said, “We have a zero-tolerance approach to people using chemical reactions to learn more about the wonders of our physical universe.  The Mythbusters’ interest in the rapid expansion of matter, sudden releases of chemical energy, and demonstrating the laws of physics using frozen chickens poses a clear and present threat to the citizens of Polk County.”


Except of course that’s not what happened.  What happened was a sixteen-year-old high school student mixed some stuff together in a water bottle to see what would happen.  As hundreds of thousands of sixteen-year-old high school students have done over the course of centuries – that is, those who didn’t tire of such childish things and graduate to making their own fireworks or pipe bombs, or throwing handfuls of potassium into the school pool.

(Best.  Chemistry class.  EVER.)

But this time, when there was a “pop” and the top came off the water bottle, Kiera Wilmot was expelled and arrested on felony weapons charges.

Kiera Wilmot just happens to be a young woman of colour, unlike 90% of the people you see on YouTube making things go “pop” in a similar fashion.

@graceishuman has Storifyed the coverage.  Read it, read up on the school-to-prison pipeline.  Get angry.

Day of Reckoning coming any day now. Promise

This post has been rather overtaken by other far funnier events since I drafted it.  But dammit I did proper research and everything so read the damn thing, then go back to the far funnier posts at The Civilian, Dim Post, and Scoop.


So, following the glorious third reading of the marriage equality bill, Colin Craig had dire warnings for our Parliament:

“The day of reckoning on the redefinition of marriage is still to come,” says Conservative Party Leader Colin Craig.

“Last night was not a vote of the people of New Zealand. If it had been, the answer would have been no.”

And he has precedent to back him up:

“We have seen the public vote disregarded on law and order, on the number of MP’s and on the Anti-Smacking Bill. Parliament’s unwillingness to even put the marriage issue to the people sadly comes as no surprise.”

Let’s take a look at just how convincing his precedents are.

Laura Norder & 99 bottles of MPs on the wall

In 1999 we the people voted on two referenda which served to illustrate a lot of the problems with citizens’ initiated referenda.

In one of the few unambiguously-worded referenda put to the NZ people, 81.5% of voters supported reducing the number of MPs in Parliament to 99.

In one of the stupidest referenda put to the NZ people, designed primarily to give people like the Nonsensical Sentencing Trust material for unjustified panic-mongering press releases for the next decade and a half, 91.78% of people voted yes to:

“Should there be a reform of our Justice system placing greater emphasis on the needs of victims, providing restitution and compensation for them and imposing minimum sentences and hard labour for all serious violent offences?”

Restitution, focus on the victims, AND harsher sentencing and hard labour.  That’s a clear-cut result if I ever saw one.

The referenda were held on election day and subsequently completely ignored by the incoming Labour/Alliance government.  (NZ First MP Barbara Stewart did later put up a bill in 2006 on the number-of-MPs issue, which was shot down in Select Committee because it made no sense.)

Three years later, in 2002, the people’s vengeance was swift.  Of the 120 MPs who had callously ignored the voice of the people:

  • 57 retained their electorate seats
  • 27 retained their list seats
  • 4 MPs inherited seats from their party’s previous MP
  • 5 MPs switched from list to electorate or vice versa

Quite interestingly (now I’ve slogged through all that), only four electorates actually changed party hands at all, and the government did not change (though some might argue that was proof of God’s wrath, or United Future getting the balance of power was God’s wrath, etc.)

And in today’s Parliament? 21 of those terrible evil wrath-of-God-to-descend-upon-them class-of-1999 MPs still hold the same seats.  (3 were list MPs and gained seats).

As you can see, the carnage wreaked upon our Parliament as vengeance for the denied wishes of the electorate was massive and bloody.

Punching Larry Baldock in the face

In 2009 a truly dreadful referendum question was posed to the New Zealand public:

“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

… which is no way loaded.

This of course followed on from the passage of the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act, meaning child abusers and other people who think hitting kids is neat-o could no longer get off scot-free for whipping teenagers with riding crops.

That Bill, introduced by Sue Bradford, was passed by the slimmest of slim marginsone hundred and thirteen to eight.

87.4% of voters (on 56% turnout, as it was a postal ballot) voted “No” on the referendum, which even John Key agreed was pretty meaningless.

Once again, Parliament ignored The Will Of The People.  Result?

Of the MPs who voted in favour of not letting child abusers pretend their violence against minors was totes justified because they were being a brat:

  • 48 electorate MPs were re-elected
  • 27 list MPs returned on the list

Of the eight who voted against,

  • Rodney Hide was re-elected in Epsom and dragged Heather Roy and a few more Actoids back in with him
  • Everyone else fucked off

Gordon Copeland – who rage-quit from United Future over the issue – magically failed to gain any traction from it and was not re-elected to Parliament.  His righteous, God-fearing Kiwi Party folded before the 2011 election.

But John Key, humble Member of Parliament for Helensville, may have suffered the greatest indignities, for through God’s loving wrath he was elevated to the office of Prime Minister and forced to appear on Letterman.

Now, there’s also the tiny trifling fact that the 2008 election was a bit of a smashing one , eliminating NZ First (temporarily), crushing United Future, resurrecting ACT, and seeing a bit of a swing towards National.  So I guess the issue of smacking kids (and having fewer MPs and being tough on victim compensation or whatever) might not have been the number one thing on people’s minds.

Conclusion?  Given Parliament’s callous disregard for the Will Of The People on stuff dating back to ’99, God has a heck of a lot of reckoning to get through before we need to worry about his marriage-equality-related vengeance.  And even Colin Craig has already gotten bored enough with this particular travesty of democracy to get distracted by a satirical news site making fun of him.

So we’re probably going to be OK.

More shitty research on abortion?

So new research is out, apparently saying that we shouldn’t allow abortion on the grounds of mental health because abortion doesn’t affect mental health.

(They do suggest rewording our current legislation so as to further make it clear that we have abortion on demand but not really because Good Moral Doctors really get to make all the decisions, a suggestion which may have slightly biased me towards the belief that they are ignorant wankers.)

That question mark in the title is there because, like all Good Science, the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry wants some of my sweet sweet disposable income before it will grant me access to the full text.  So I have to rely on the abstract, and the interpretation of a journalist.  Because journalists are amazingly accurate when it comes to reporting science.

Anyway, to the abstract:

Objective: There have been debates about the linkages between abortion and mental health. Few reviews have considered the extent to which abortion has therapeutic benefits that mitigate the mental health risks of abortion. The aim of this review was to conduct a re-appraisal of the evidence to examine the research hypothesis that abortion reduces rates of mental health problems in women having unwanted or unintended pregnancy.

Conclusions: There is no available evidence to suggest that abortion has therapeutic effects in reducing the mental health risks of unwanted or unintended pregnancy. There is suggestive evidence that abortion may be associated with small to moderate increases in risks of some mental health problems.

So, did it jump out at you, too?  Let’s revisit:

in women having unwanted or unintended pregnancy

unwanted or unintended pregnancy

unwanted or unintended 

I don’t know about you, but I hate the concept of surprise parties.  They are unwanted (and, because they’re a surprise, pretty much always unintended).  On the other hand, I know people who think surprise parties are the most fun ever.  They’re unintended – because they’re a surprise – but, once they occur, very much wanted.

You think me and those people might have slightly different needs and responses and experiences of surprise parties?

Maybe pregnancy is slightly similar.  Maybe a lot of people get pregnant without planning it but are actually really happy to be pregnant!  Maybe their pregnancy is subsequently full of sunshine and rainbows and morning sickness!  Maybe including happy-surprise-pregnancy-people in with unhappy-surprise-pregnancy-people might, I don’t know (because I can’t access the full fucking article) skew things the tiniest bit?

The next problem, of course, is making statements like this:

Abortion was associated with small to moderate increases in risks of anxiety … alcohol misuse … illicit drug use/misuse …and suicidal behaviour …

Without noting whether or not you controlled for the fact that there’s a tiny bit of stigma around abortion in our society, like maybe people who get abortions are regularly labelled murderers or something.  Maybe they, like, went to a clinic to get an abortion because they couldn’t feed another child on top of the ones they already have and some preachy douchefuck waved a plastic foetus at them and they decided to get a stiff drink afterwards.  I fucking would.

Not convinced?  Let’s consider that the president of ALRANZ, Dr Morgan Healey, thinks the paper shows good grounds for completely decriminalizing abortion in NZ.  Bob McCoskrie, who wants to lock up your uterus, thinks it shows abortion is the Great Satan and must be made punishable by death.

You suppose maybe the results are a little bit open to interpretation?

I am become fatpocalypse: the apology

I’m sorry, everyone.

I’ve been spreading misinformation on Twitter.  Dangerous, subversive misinformation.

I started off with the radical notion that obesity isn’t a health problem.  In the same way that being red-headed or having A+ blood isn’t a health problem.  Those things may be “linked” statistically with certain conditions or illnesses or levels of mortality … that doesn’t make them illnesses in their own right.

Of course, people may say “oh, I didn’t mean individual health, I meant overall health”.  Obesity is still not an illness.  It doesn’t have a diagnosis, it doesn’t have a cure.  It has some incredibly vague and imprecise alleged measurements, and a hell of a lot of very profitable yet completely unreliable suggested treatments.  But I choose not to see that as the same thing.

Also?  BMI or amount of body fat are weak predictors of longevity, and being “overweight” is associated with greater longevity, especially for the 55+ age group; obesity may have a protective factor for people with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease; obese people are more likely to survive a coronary bypass.

But clearly, I was wrong.  My ass is an epidemic.  My boobs are the plague.  Despite my lack of actual health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease or diabetes, I am fat, and ergo sick.

I pointed out that height is more affected by environment than weight.

Okay, okay, you got me.  I was wrong.  Because weight is 70-80% heritable, and height is 60-80% heritable.  Or it’s 75-85% versus 90-95%.  Either way, the lesson is clearly that I was wrong, and weight is totally something individuals can control, unlike their height, which is fixed by God.

I apologise.

I said fat people do not exercise less nor eat more than thin people.

I was basing this statement on studies which show things like activity-based programmes to reduce children’s BMI consistently fail.

I read Junkfood Science, and learned:

Professors and clinicians David Garner, Ph.D., and Susan Wooley, Ph.D., reviewed 500 studies on the long-term treatment efficacy, the biology of weight regulation, and health outcomes of weight loss, and confirmed that multiple researchers, using a variety of methodologies, have continued to fail to find any meaningful or replicable differences in the caloric intake or eating patterns of the obese compared to the non-obese to explain obesity.

And I discovered this study shows that there’s fuck-all difference between “metabolically healthy” obese people and thin people.

But look, it just makes sense that fat people are lazy gluttons.  Science said so.  Just not here.

I said that no diet works if you study its participants over 5 years.

I am at least smart enough to know that individual studies can be flawed, but I was truly taken in when my research found that meta-study after meta-study after meta-study shows weight loss programmes failing.  If they bothered to follow the subjects for longer than a year.  A lot didn’t.  Probably for totally innocuous reasons.

See the “Also?” link above?

Long-term follow-up studies document that the majority of individuals regain virtually all of the weight that was lost during treatment, regardless of whether they maintain their diet or exercise program. Consider the Women’s Health Initiative, the largest and longest randomized, controlled dietary intervention clinical trial, designed to test the current recommendations. More than 20,000 women maintained a low-fat diet, reportedly reducing their calorie intake by an average of 360 calories per day and significantly increasing their activity. After almost eight years on this diet, there was almost no change in weight from starting point (a loss of 0.1 kg), and average waist circumference, which is a measure of abdominal fat, had increased (0.3 cm).

You know what does work to actually improve people’s health?  The Health At Every Size approach.  Which doesn’t result in weightloss.  (It’s even been … PEER REVIEWED!!!  More on that in a later post.)

But it’s probably all just a scheme so fatties can feel good about themselves and justify eating more doughnuts.

I said that successive generations are getting taller, that height is correlated with some illnesses, and that it thus surprises me (note: it doesn’t really) that no one runs around panicking about a tallness epidemic.

This was then presented as me actually arguing that height is a health problem.  At this point I probably should’ve stopped, because I was clearly arguing with someone who had no intention of engaging honestly, but I am a glutton for doughnuts punishment sometimes..

What I tried to clarify – and of course, Twitter is a bad medium for anything more complex than one full sentence – is that fatness is not sickness, and our social responses to sickness are ineffective and oppressive.

Like diets.  Oh, said the other person, I never mentioned diets.  Nope, he just talked about “controlling” body weight.  Because there are totally safe predictable sustainable ways to do that which aren’t “diets”, right?


What there actually are are a lot of studies (PEER REVIEWED! SCIENCE!!!) which show that it’s seriously, seriously hard to permanently alter people’s weight.  In either direction. And despite the constant panic-mongering over THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC, life expectancy continues to rise and the population is getting healthier – in actual measurable things.

There’s the way that messages about THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC have led to increased discrimination against fat people – including discrimination in the medical professional which has almost certainly killed people.

The 70-80% heritable link above?  Also notes that stress has a major impact on body weight.  Gosh, I wonder if underprivileged, poor, oppressed minorities, who are so often the Scary Fat People Who Will Eat Your Babies, might be under some stress that Good White People From Nice Schools don’t experience?

The “Also?” link above?  Notes that:

Most prospective observational studies suggest that weight loss increases the risk of premature death among obese individuals, even when the weight loss is intentional and the studies are well controlled with regard to known confounding factors, including hazardous behavior and underlying diseases

So clearly the answer is to be born thin, to thin parents.  But not too thin, obviously.

I apologise, people.  I’ve been wilfully leading you all down a garden path to obesity.  I will not rest until we all look like that fucking creepy vampire Pearl from Blade.  Probably because I’m a jealous bitch, or something.  (Well, I’m sure the more kindly fathaters will pretend to look on me with pity.)

I’ll stop worrying my little fat ladybrain about this now.

Until tomorrow’s post.

Hat tips (and seriously recommended reading):  the Redefining Body Image resources page; Shapely Prose’s immortal FAQ; Dr Linda Bacon, the appropriately-named goddess of HAES; Big Liberty’s Truth Behind Fat: References; Junkfood Science.

Random recommended reading

I just keep finding so many interesting articles on the dozens of blogs I follow that I’m thinking random recommended reading may become a thing, so I’m sticking it on a Monday after my warm fuzzies post because no one should have to do too much thinking on a Monday.

Help Family Planning with an international study on period pain.  You need to be:

  • Between 18 and 50 years old
  • Having regular periods with moderate period pain 
  • In good general health
  • Not already taking hormonal contraception or have an IUD
  • Prepared to use condoms during the study if contraception is required

The News With Nipples takes on the endless fight against bullshit passive-language reporting of sexual attacks (trigger warning for sexual assault.)

Best headline of all time / proof we’re living in the future: Giant NASA spider robots could 3D print lunar base

Mississippi douchebags protest against a school respecting a student’s gender identity.  Because letting a person meet the dress code already in place for their gender is exactly the same as not meeting the dress code at all, and that’s how you know it’s the trans student who wants “special treatment”.

HIV has been cured in a child for the first time.  YES.

Want a good reason to oppose a 4-year parliamentary term?  Check out who’s in favour, and why.

Melissa Harris-Perry on the real Harlem Shake and why white folk seriously need to stop mockingly appropriate shit which isn’t theirs.

How Nusreta Sivac has helped to get rape treated seriously as a war crime.

Gender and the census part 2

Others have posted on the 2013 Census gender issue.  Read them!

Atheist Pinko Sluts Monthly notes the actual, stated reason why “male” is listed above “female”: because people get too confused if “female” is listed first.  What does that tell you about entrenched social programming?

Ironbark notes the problems from a health perspective – the census gender options don’t actually provide compatible data!

Jan Logie MP wants to campaign for more options.  Given that the business case for the next census in 2018 is going to Cabinet in November this year, I’m thinking we may be in for the long haul.

Badtom on Twitter pretty much sums up the silliness of saying that gender diversity isn’t relevant:

We COULD offer non-binary sex options, but that isn’t relevant for most people. Now, question 17: do you have a fax machine?

Homosexuality is unnatural!!!

It’s a common catch-cry of the lesser spotted homophobe:  homosexuality just isn’t natural because babies.

And it’s no good trying to convince them with the many, many documented instances of homosexuality in animal species, because we’re dealing with bigoted assholes who don’t even really believe what they say; their goal is really just to bully everyone into following their personal lifestyle choices by any means necessary.

But just for fun, next time you’re confronted with the “it’s not natural” argument, consider dropping this into the conversation:

Scientists have been studying the males of a particular species of Amazonian frog.  During that time of the season, the males just get so darn vigorous that often they accidentally drown the female they’re all trying to hump.

At which point they give her a good ol’ squeeze to get her eggs out and jizz on them, thus completing the Circle of Necrophiliac Life.

That’s fucking natural, that is.  And you can’t argue with Nature.


Gender and the census

Question 25 of the 2013 New Zealand Census asks:

Are you:

  • male
  • female

Spot the problem.

In response to queries on the topic, the very-helpful 2013 Census Twitter account @2013Census has said:

We just ask that people mark the response that shows how they are living their lives

Which is nice, but (a) sex and gender aren’t the same thing and (b) “male” and “female” and “are you” seem pretty inflexible.

A Facebook campaign has kicked off (well, was kicked off in 2011 when the Census was meant to be on) calling on people to tick both boxes for “gender” in order to confound the results.  Unfortunately, it’s not going to work, per @2013Census:

If the question about sex isn’t answered, or there are multiple repsonses, a response is imputed based on other answers

I’ve now asked what happens if you currently “live your life” as a man, but have given birth to babies – and thus would tick male but not skip question 25?  Which ticky-box does the “imputation” favour?  The response is:

If they’re completing their forms online they won’t be able to. If on paper it will come up with an error when the form is processed

At which point I presume they start “imputing” things again.

Here’s the clincher: despite the good key message about “how you live your life”, the fact is that the 2011 Census Content Report, when outlining why the sex question (and yep, they say “sex”, not “gender”) was not changed from 2006, says:

Sex refers to the distinction between males and females based on the biological differences in sexual characteristics.

Which pretty much seems to boil down to “penis male, vagina female”.  Hence the whole “only females can have given birth” assumption.

As 3News (but not Patrick Gower, alas) has recently covered, collecting data in this way is pretty limiting.  It means we just don’t have an overall national picture of sex and gender diversity among New Zealanders as a whole.  Think about this:  all the trans women who tick “female” but have birthed “0” children pull the fertility measurement down, while all the trans men who tick “male” but have had, say, triplets, aren’t included.

You instantly head to the comment box to say “but there aren’t that many trans men who’ve had triplets, QoT, so it doesn’t really hurt the data” but how the fuck would you KNOW?

While other government departments might collect this kind of information in their own ways, the issues are pretty obvious:  when Health collects information it’s only collecting it from people who are ill or injured; when Corrections does it it’s only collecting it from people who get into the criminal justice system.

Census needs to do a better job of collecting meaningful data about New Zealanders.  Unfortunately, double-ticking the sex box (yep, that sounds good and dirty) is only going to take up computer time.

Monday warm fuzzies (and science!): Gravity-powered lamps

Via Ars Technica:

Kerosene lamps are problematic in three ways: they release pollutants which can contribute to respiratory disease; they pose a fire risk; and, thanks to the ongoing need to buy kerosene fuel, they are expensive to run.

Approached by the charity Solar Aid to design a solar-powered LED alternative, London design consultancy Therefore shifted the emphasis away from solar, which requires expensive batteries that degrade over time. The company’s answer is both more simple and more radical: an LED lamp driven by a bag of sand, earth, or stones, pulled toward the Earth by gravity.

It always warms my heart to see awesome projects like this completely crush their goals on Kickstarter/Indiegogo etc.