Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The Politicization Of Science: How the study "Male Microchimerism in the Human Female Brain" became the news story "Women Absorb And Retain DNA From Every Man They Have Sex With"

In this post, I intend to look at the journey a scientific study has taken on it's way to being disseminated to general public, something we've covered before on this blog when we examined how a study regarding experiences during death was transformed via the news media and the blogosphere to being a study regarding deathbed visitations by the ghosts of dead loved ones. The difference with today's post and that previous post is that the lens the study will pass through today is not a paranormal one but a political one. The distortion of this particular study has led to a rather disturbing and distasteful series of stories and headlines to appear on social media bringing along with them toxic threads wich are pretty rampant with misogyny.

 Let's start by looking at the Newswire story which is, as far as I can see, where this interpretation of the story originated from, published on 23/06/17, and authored by "Baxter Dmitry" found in the health section of the site. The headline of the article states: "Women Absorb And Retain DNA From Every Man They Have Sex With." and author claims this is backed up by a scientific study, but is this even remotely true?


 The article begins:
"Women retain and carry living DNA from every man with whom they have sexual intercourse, according to a new study by the University of Seattle and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center."
A new study? Actually no, the research referenced in the story was published in Plos One in September 2012. I guess Baxter couldn't write that though as it would relegate his story to... erm... not news. This isn't a good sign. We haven't moved past the first paragraph and there's a blatant obscuring of the truth already! In fact, there's two. When Baxter refers to "a new study" it hides the fact that he is going to perform a blatant bait and switch and start talking about a different study midway through the article when it suits his agenda.
 "The study, which discovered the startling information by accident, was originally trying to determine if women who have been pregnant with a son might be more predisposed to certain neurological diseases that occur more frequently in males. 
But as the scientists picked apart the female brain, the study began to veer wildly off course. As it turns out, the female brain is even more mysterious than we previously thought.
The study found that female brains often harbor “male microchimerism“, or in other words, the presence of male DNA that originated from another individual, and are genetically distinct from the cells that make up the rest of the woman."
All of which is a half arsed interpretation of what the researchers actually did, They took samples from 57 deceased elderly women's brains and searched them for a Y-chromosome specific gene, DYS14, the presence of which should indicate Y-chromosomes in the female brain. Note something of importance here that none of the "news" stories that have cropped up around this study will tell you. The sample size was 57 cadavers. That is an extremely small sample size to make an induction such as this article makes, even if that was the conclusion the researchers came to. Which it isn't.

Microchimerism isn't a new concept by any stretch, and it's accepted that mothers who have carried a male child will exchange DNA with that child, the presence of male DNA in women who have carried male offspring helped determine that foetal DNA exchange occurs. A finding that would be invalidated if the article in question's conclusions is correct. According to this author, EVERY woman who has ever had intercourse with a man should show signs of male microchimerism. The researchers in question concluded that in most cases the presence of DYS14 in the 63% of samples studied were a result of the deceased mothers carrying a male child at some point. Where the article makes its main leap of logic is the assumption of the origin of DYS14 in the samples from women who have never carried a male child.
"Through the study the researchers assumed that the most likely answer was that all male DNA found living in the female brain came from a male pregnancy. That was the safe, politically correct assumption. But these researchers were living in denial. Because when they autopsied the brains of women who had never even been pregnant, let alone with a male child, they STILL found male DNA cells prevalent in the female brain."
GASP! This is remarkable! Or... it would be if it were even remotely fucking true! I quote from the study itself:
"Limited pregnancy history was available on the subjects; pregnancy history on most subjects was unknown." (Chan, Gurnot, et al, Male Microchimerism in the Human Female Brain, Sept 2012)
In fact, all the researchers were certain of was that only two of the subjects definitely had no male offspring. So they had no way of determining whether male microchimerism in the samples was due to pregnancy. Further to this, the researchers had no access to the subjects full medical history and therefore no way of knowing if abortions or miscarriage could account for the presence of male chromosomes in the samples. Couple this with the researcher's wariness regarding the high potential of cross contamination even if this information was known.

The researchers are clear about the conclusions of the study:
"The most likely source of male Mc in female brain is acquisition of fetal Mc from pregnancy with a male fetus. In women without sons, male DNA can also be acquired from an abortion or a miscarriage [22][23][38][40]. The pregnancy history was unknown for all but a few subjects in the current studies, thus male Mc in female brain could not be evaluated according to specific prior pregnancy history. In addition to prior pregnancies, male Mc could be acquired by a female from a recognized or vanished male twin [41][43], an older male sibling, or through non-irradiated blood transfusion [44]. (Chan, Gurnot, et al, Male Microchimerism in the Human Female Brain, Sept 2012)"
Unfortunately, this angers Baxter, he despite seemingly having no experience or qualifications in genetics or biology, knows better and sees deception in this conclusion:
"At this point the scientists didn’t know what the hell was going on. Confused, they did their best to hide the evidence until they could understand and explain it. They buried it in numerous sub studies and articles, but if you sift through them all you will find the damning statement, the one line that gives the game away and explains exactly where these male DNA cells come from."
Erm... this narrative seems to imply Baxter was there when the results of the study were examined and completely ignores the fact the researchers had extremely limited knowledge of any of the subject's history. The fact is they aren't studying what Baxter seems to imply they are. The study isn't designed, or capable of discovering what Baxter concludes from it! One has to wonder why Baxter bothered to cite the study at all? It doesn't support the conclusion he draws, so much so Baxter has to say the researchers hid his conclusion!

To demonstrate this Baxter quotes this from the study's conclusion:
CONCLUSIONS: Male microchimerism was not infrequent in women without sons. Besides known pregnancies, other possible sources of male microchimerism include unrecognized spontaneous abortion, vanished male twin, an older brother transferred by the maternal circulation, or SEXUAL INTERCOURSE. Male microchimerism was significantly more frequent and levels were higher in women with induced abortion than in women with other pregnancy histories. Further studies are needed to determine specific origins of male microchimerism in women.
The problem is this doesn't come from the 2012 study, it's the conclusion taken from an earlier 2005 study. Not that Baxter is going to inform his readers of that. He's relying on the fact they are too lazy or stupid to check his sources.

"So according to the scientists, the possible sources of the male DNA cells living in the women’s brains are: 
  1. an abortion the woman didn’t know about
  2. a male twin that vanished
  3. an older brother transferred by the maternal circulation
  4. sexual intercourse.."

 At no point in either study do the researchers even hint at point four. This is Baxter's conclusion pulled from literally nowhere, replacing the researcher's actual fourth conclusion miscarriage and they're fifth conclusion blood transfusion or organ donation. Point 1 also disingenuously implies that Baxter believes the researchers collected information from the women after the study, ridiculous as they were fucking cadavers at the time!


Further to this Baxter then goes back to the 2012 study, conflating it with the conclusions taken from the 2005 study to seriously misrepresent it. The 63% result was found in the 2012 study, not the 2005 study, which found the prevalence of microchimerism to be much lower in women without male children, Bearing that in mind should show just how deceptive the following statement is:
"The first three options apply to a very small percentage of women. They couldn’t possibly account for the 63% figure." 
Yes, Baxter, but considering the 2012 study, the one you're actually meant to be looking at, the one whose result you quote, you forgot to discount the major option the subjects who had male children! Hardly rare. In fact, if you collected a sample of 57 women in their old age (don't forget this was a study of Alzheimer's and other degenerative disorders and their connection to Microchimerism) you wouldn't be terribly surprised if you learned 63% of them had a male child!  Note also that approximately one in six pregnancy end in miscarriage, and as these are likely elderly women we can expect that figure was much higher during their childbearing years.

At this point Baxter abandons any attempt to hide his true agenda, he extrapolates the result of the study beyond all credibility, and enters into a pure morality lesson for women without even a smattering of fact or evidence:
"This has very important ramifications for women. Every male you absorb spermatazoa from becomes a living part of you for life. The women autopsied in this study were elderly. Some had been carrying the living male DNA inside them for well over 50 years." 
There simply isn't any evidence of this, spermatozoa haven't been found to "be absorbed"  by the female body at any point, as far is we know sperm that fails to fertilise is destroyed by white blood cells. But in Baxter's World sperm is a formidable opponent indeed.
"Sperm is alive. It is living cells. When it is injected into you it swims and swims until it crashes headlong into a wall, and then it attaches and burrows into your flesh. If it’s in your mouth it swims and climbs into your nasal passages, inner ear, and behind your eyes. Then it digs in. It enters your blood stream and collects in your brain and spine.
Like something out of a scifi movie, it becomes a part of you and you can’t get rid of it."
What? I think Baxter has sperm confused with the chest-buster from Alien.



 

A look through Baxter's history as an author on Newswire highlights his political bias, pro-Trump/anti-Clinton stories implying he's a staunch Republican. Frankly, I don't care about a person's personal politics but the attempt to view science through a political lens is extremely damaging and unfortunately, it's not a crime unique to the right. Likely, much of the push back against this blog post will involve my own personal politics, something that should be conspicuous by its absence in my analysis of the actual study involved here. The danger here is an ideologue like Baxter is giving the impression that there is some research that actually backs up this utter nonsense, There simply isn't. There are plenty of people out there to take this politically malformed science and use it to support outmoded misogynistic ideas regarding the right of women to have as many sexual partners as they chose. If you think this is hyperbole, find me an iteration of this story that warns men to be choosy of their sexual partners because some women may hang on to their DNA! You won't. Nor will you find a story in which these supposed findings are used to support the practice of safe sex.

Although, I presume Baxter believes his Wolverine like sperm would make short work of a thin layer of latex!