Akin and the Mysteries of Reproduction

Senatorial Candidate Akin’s recent claims that doctors informed him of a magical mechanism by which women can prevent successful insemination were completely unsurprising. The public, particularly in an election season, have little time for detailed analysis of claims and evidence supporting said claims, preferring passionate leaders who make grand assertions. After all, religion makes a cottage industry out of it. Americans don’t much care about the story, but they love a good performer.

Akin’s fantastical claims may be unsurprising, but equally disturbing, particularly to a person who makes his living collecting data and methodically testing claims.

I like his idea, though. The logical outcome of Akin’s claim is that arguments over birth control are moot. Women have the mechanism to stop reproduction. We no longer need pharmaceutical birth control and abortion. Perhaps the ladies are just lazy.

Fantastic notions of the mysteries of reproduction, are not new. For example, Edward Clarke, a 19th century Harvard professor, once claimed that providing education to women would result in enlarged brains, thus atrophying the entire reproductive system.

No doubt, people believed him, though the notion strikes on as utterly preposterous in 2012. Perhaps he based this on his own erectile problems? Who knows. Regardless, he wrote a book on it, and his shoddy claims were used to argue for denying women higher education and the right to vote. Mr. Clarke would fit in well with today’s Republican Party.

Yesterday, I wrote on the shrinking population of full time, properly compensated faculty in the US academy. I would conjecture that this is to the absolute delight of anti-intellectualists everywhere, who view data and scrutiny as a threat the the future of the Republic.

Socrates was killed for asking questions. One of Pol Pot’s first targets was the educated elite. Here in the US, I can’t foresee policy which calls for the killing of the educated, but I do see our political culture gradually marginalizing us.

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About Peter Larson

Post-doctoral researcher at the University of Michigan School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology

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