The certified epidemic of childhood cruelty.

Science, technology, and life.
May 11 2007 9:20 AM

Bully Crap

The certified epidemic of childhood cruelty.

(For the latest columns on bestiality, selling organs, and abortion and ultrasound, click here.)

Doctors say they broke the law when they sterilized a 6-year-old girl without a court order. The surgery was a hysterectomy, part of a plan to stunt the girl's growth and prevent menstruation and breasts, since she was profoundly mentally and physically disabled. The girls' parents and a hospital ethics committee had approved the treatment. Doctors' explanation: We innocently screwed up. Parents' response: Don't let court-order rules become "undue obstacles" to parents who want to help their disabled kids this way. Critics' view: We need court oversight to make sure you're helping your kid, not just mutilating her. (For Human Nature's take on this case and on surgery to shrink people, click here.)

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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A study says 90 percent of third- to sixth-graders have been bullied. Findings: "Bullying and victimization were widespread, as 89.5% of children experienced some form of victimization and 59.0% of students participated in some form of bullying." Method: A questionnaire that asked kids whether various things had been done to them. Sample questions: "Other students make me cry," "Other students look at me in a mean way,"  "Other students tease me," "Other students ignore me on purpose." Authors' conclusions: 1) Bullying has become an epidemic that can harm kids' mental health. 2) "We really need to develop and test some interventions, make some manuals," and implement them in schools. Cynical view: But first let's stamp out cooties.

Britain authorized a clinic to weed out embryos with a "severe cosmetic condition." The condition, congenital fibrosis of the extramacular muscles, "would have caused the child to have a severe squint," with eyes that "look downwards or sideways." Clinic operator's view: 1) This authorization shows "we will increasingly see the use of embryo screening for severe cosmetic conditions." 2) If a couple wanted to screen for hair color, that trait "can be a cause of bullying which can lead to suicide. With the agreement of [regulators], I would do it. If a parent suffered from asthma, and it was possible to detect the genetic factor for this, I would do it. It all depends on the family's distress." Cynical view: Can we start weeding out clinic operators for distressing amorality? (Hat tip to Center for Genetics and Society. For Human Nature's takes on embryo testing and eugenics, click here and here.)

More evidence that oral sex can cause throat cancer: A study indicates that oral sex with one to five partners in a lifetime doubles your risk of throat cancer, and oral sex with six or more partners triples your risk. To get the same risk elevation through vaginal sex, you'd need many more partners. Transmission vehicle: HPV. Other risk factors: infrequent use of condoms, poor dentition, infrequent toothbrushing, and heavy tobacco use. Researchers' conclusion: "The widespreadoral sexual practices among adolescents may be a contributingfactor" in "the annual increases in the incidence of tonsillar and base-of-tonguecancers in the United States since 1973." Skeptical view: The odds are still very low. (For a previous update on oral sex and mouth cancer, click here. For Human Nature's take on the HIV risks of oral vs. anal sex, click here.)

The governor of Texas gave up his fight for mandatory HPV vaccinations. He had ordered the shots for sixth-grade girls, but legislators trumped him with a bill reversing his order. He gave up because opponents had a veto-proof margin. Opponents' arguments: 1) The order usurped parental rights over kids' sex lives, since the cancer-causing virus is spread sexually. 2) The vaccine's long-term safety hasn't been proved. Governor's rebuttals: 1) The order lets parents opt out. 2) You can get HPV even if you abstain from sex till marriage. 3) The cancer deaths of thousands of women will be on my opponents' heads. Likely resolution: The shots won't be mandated, but more parents will get them, because insurers and the state will subsidize them. (For the most recent updates on the fight over HPV, click here and here.)

Parents of kids with Down syndrome are trying to discourage routine abortions of such children. Tests for the syndrome are spreading, and 90 percent of women who test positive choose abortion. Parents' methods of discouragement: meeting with doctors to change the way they talk about Down's, asking doctors to refer pregnant women to them, and inviting the women to meet their affected kids. Official rationales: 1) Down's kids are a joy and not such a burden. 2) Routine abortion of them is a step toward eugenics. Unofficial rationale: If no more kids are born with the syndrome, society's support for kids already affected will evaporate. Cynical view: Misery loves company. Hardcore pro-choice view: This smells like pro-life pressure tactics. (For Human Nature's takes on embryo testing and eugenics, click here and here.)

The U.S. will abolish conventional light bulbs within 10 years under energy-efficiency rules being worked out by business and environmentalists. The phase-out is expected to be enacted soon by Congress. Substitutes: compact fluorescents, more efficient incandescents, and light-emitting diodes. Rationales: Lower energy bills, less global warming. Objections: 1) Alternative bulbs are much more expensive. 2) Their light is harsher and harder to adjust. Rebuttals: 1) You'll save more in energy costs than you'll pay for the new bulbs. 2) The bulbs will get cheaper as more people buy them. (For a previous update on the abolition of incandescent bulbs, click here.)

Forty percent of 3-month-old infants regularly watch TV, videos, or DVDs, according to a survey. By their second birthdays, 90 percent of toddlers watch regularly. The median age at which kids start watching regularly is 9 months. Average viewing time for 0-year-olds: 1 hour per day. Thirty percent of parents claim their kids' TV shows are "good for his or her brain." Researchers' formal conclusion: Make "educated choices" about what your kid watches, and watch it with them. Researchers' informal conclusions: 1) Stop turning your kid into a moron who can't sustain attention and succeed in school. 2)  Stop believing all that "Baby Einstein" crap about videos being good for your kid. (For a previous update on parents who push TV on their kids, click here. For bedroom TV and sex, click here.)

A company is selling home test kits that can identify fetal gender at six weeks. Previously, gender tests weren't done till 20 weeks. Pro-life reaction: This will facilitate abortions for sex selection. Company's rebuttals: 1) Parents will buy the test so they can start "choosing a name, buying clothes and … decorate the baby's room." 2) To prevent sex-selective abortions, we've "decidednot to sell the early gender test into China and India and some other areas." 3) We're primarily selling in Western countries where "responsibility should lie with the individual." (For Human Nature's take on the spread of embryo sex selection, click here. For the blurring line between embryos and fetuses, click here.)

The Republican presidential candidates split over evolution in their first debate. Sen. John McCain said he believed in it but also saw "the hand of God" in the Grand Canyon.Sen. Sam Brownback, Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Rep. Tom Tancredo raised their hands when asked if they disagreed with evolution. Later, Brownback said "there's a microevolution within species, but I do think there's a role for the divine in the incredible nature of the mind and the complexity of the cell." Huckabee said God "put the creative process in motion. I don't know how he did it. He may have used some sort of evolutionary process. I tend to believe that he did it as Scripture says." Tancredo said "evolution explains changes in life. Creationism explains its origin." Liberal press view: These guys are nuts. Cynical press view: So is the public. (For Human Nature's takes on evolution, click here, here, here, and here.)

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) Bestiality vs. homosexuality. 2)  Ultrasound and the future of abortion. 3) The global market in human organs. 4) The evolution of brains and morals. 5) Machines that read your mind. 6) Invasion of the naked body scanners. 7) The future of pain-beaming weapons. 8)  Gay sheep and human destiny. 9)  More on gay sheep.

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