Circumcision again: Jesse Bering is not a careful reader

I have written about circumcision at length in three different posts and their subsequent comment sections. The latter two were discussing PZ Myer’s irresponsible statement that the ‘evidence vanishes with further studies’ concerning the effectiveness of circumcision as a means of preventing HIV and other disease transmission. To quote from my most recent post:

So now the only question that remains is, When is PZ Myers going to recant his blatantly and irresponsibly false statement where he said that health benefits of circumcision vanish with further studies?

In other words, it is my position that circumcision is an effective means of HIV prevention during heterosexual intercourse; my posts and subsequent comments attest to this position.

This leads to a weird accusation from Jesse Bering, PhD:

One can either listen to outspoken atheist bloggers who can’t seem to understand that this is no longer a religious or cultural issue, the overwrought intactivists attempting to intimidate new parents through strong rhetoric and graphic images of botched circumcisions, the endless stream of nosy polemical parents who are happy to share their judgmental attitudes, or one can take the advice of those who, you know, actually know what the hell they’re talking about.

First, “either” implies one of two things, not one of four things. Second, the fact that I am an atheist is 100% irrelevant to the matter. Third, I don’t think Bering even bothered to read my post. If he did, he would know that I said absolutely nothing about the religious or cultural aspects of circumcision. The closest I came is in the comment section when I voiced that I am against non-medical personnel (such as Rabbis) performing the minor surgery. (If the Rabbis happen to also be medically qualified to perform the procedure, then I don’t have a problem with them doing so.) Beyond that, I discussed the medical benefits of circumcision.

Of course, since Bering hardly read the post he cited, I don’t expect that he read my first post (linked above) about circumcision. If he did, he could at least have a plausible basis for his accusation that I see this as a religious and cultural matter. However, that basis would quickly disappear when he realized (or when I had to point out to him) that I think religious arguments for circumcision “suck” and that my response to arguments from tradition is “So what?” This has always been a matter of science for me. Only someone who doesn’t bother to read carefully would claim otherwise.

What makes this whole thing so bizarre, though, is that Bering and I don’t even disagree. Anywhere. Look at this argument:

All else being equal…any dubious benefits derived from religious, social, hygienic, or aesthetic reasons are clearly outweighed by the costs of male circumcision.

In other words, until the recent body of evidence began to emerge, the previous reasons for circumcision were not good enough. As Bering said and as I agree, the arguments from previous generations “were almost always unconvincing”. Bering, of course, goes on to demonstrates that there now is ample evidence in favor of circumcision. (And, of course, I agree.) He then says,

Many of our parents, it seems, may have actually made the right decision for the wrong reasons.

You mean to tell me that reasons of tradition and religion weren’t the right reasons? That we need solid science behind these sort of decisions? That the primary focus of any argument in favor of or against circumcision should be based upon the mounds of available data? Guess what? I agree.

It would be one thing if I had some typo that made a major difference in one of my arguments or if I communicated my position poorly. The fact, though, is that I did neither of those things. I have been crystal clear: The decision to circumcise a child or not should be based upon scientific evidence; to base such a decision on religion or culture may result in the right decision, but it would be entirely irrelevant to the question at hand – that right result would be “for the wrong reasons”.

I’ll make a new post when a retraction occurs.

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5 Responses

  1. Incidentally, Bering’s expertise is in psychology, not biology.

  2. Michael, you’re right about one thing. I’m a psychologist, not a biologist. And what you’re demonstrating in this post is rather embarrassingly a case of hostile attribution bias. My linking to your piece was meant to highlight PZ Myers as an “outspoken atheist blogger” whose views concerning male circumcision were missing the point entirely; this description was about him, it was not a reference to you. I linked to your earlier piece only because I thought it was a thoughtful and well-reasoned discussion of Myers’ misleading sentiments, and I wanted to direct readers to your counterpoints–you’d already done the work for me on that score, in other words, and it seemed a much more productive link for readers of my Discover piece than sending them directly to his original post at Pharyngula.

    So it’s not your imagination that we’re entirely in agreement on this issue. What is *entirely* your imagination, however, is that I was targeting you in some hostile way, or that anything I’d written was even about you at all. The world isn’t against you, Michael. I’m certainly not, anyway. –And by the way, I am a very careful reader.

  3. I do have to issue a retraction: It isn’t true that you aren’t a careful reader. You just aren’t a careful writer. Or researcher. If you were, you would know that “outspoken atheist blogger” is exactly what I am. Moreover, PZ Myers is blinded by his ethics-based agenda, but he does know what he’s talking about. You know. Because he has that PhD.

    So, no, I am not embarrassed. The way you linked and the way you wrote was the equivalent of introducing a pronoun without first using someone’s name. Besides that, I’m not the psychologist who thinks it’s a good idea to engage in armchair psychology.

    Edit: There is also the fact that PZ Myers is denying science and that is what I was addressing. I don’t care about his ethical views on the matter; my post didn’t say anything about that, so your citation to me doesn’t support your contention anyway.

  4. Circumcision is nothing but a continuation of a stupid, barbaric procedure that sprang from the minds of a bunch of goat-herding lunatics from the Bronze Age who were obsessed with their peckers!!

    It is no more rational to slice up the pecker of a male baby than it would be to butcher the vaginal area of a female baby.

    Jesus fucking Christ!!!! What utter bullshit!!

  5. [...] I said I would, I am posting an update to my post about Jesse Bering, psychologist. Bering wrote about circumcision a few weeks ago and linked back to me: One can either listen to [...]

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