Racist policies are making remote Aboriginal communities sick. At least three communities in central Australia have levels of uranium in drinking water that exceed health guidelines, with dozens more not meeting good quality.
“It’s an international scandal that this is allowed to happen in a country like Australia — a rich country like Australia… If that was happening in Victoria, you’d have a hell of a row… Because they’re bush people and not a concern to politicians, they don’t worry about it.”
Barely a week passes without a media report of the suffering or tragic death of a woman at the hands of a partner. Typically, these accounts focus on the individuals involved. While important, in isolation, such a focus can belie the fact intimate partner violence is a wider social problem, obscuring both the factors contributing to it and opportunities to prevent it.
A study being launched today by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety confirms the serious impacts of intimate partner violence. The analysis, undertaken by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, provides estimates of the impact of intimate partner violence on women’s health.
Data from the Personal Safety Survey, Australia’s most reliable violence prevalence survey, was used as a key input.
Since the age of 15, one in four women in Australia have experienced at least one incident of violence by a partner. This includes violence perpetrated by a live-in partner as well as boyfriends, girlfriends or dates. This is based on a definition of violence, used by the Personal Safety Survey, which includes physical and sexual assault, as well as face-to-face threats the victim believed were likely and able to be carried out.
The state of Victoria in Australia is facing a measles outbreak due to parents in relatively progressive suburbs choosing not to vaccinate their children. The anti-vaccination movement has its roots in Western societies in the myth that vaccines cause autism. The science demonstrating that there is no link between autism and vaccines is peer-reviewed and well-established. The original paper that made the assertion that such a link existed was retracted by the original publisher, The Lancet, due to fraud by Andrew Wakefield and his team.
Given that the myths of vaccines have been thoroughly debunked, what is behind the anti-vaxxer movement? I start by discussing the scientific evidence about the fraud that inspired the anti-vaxxer movement before providing a broad sketch of the public who don’t believe in vaccination.
Any time there is an article about vaccine initiatives, a segment of the public begin to shout about government conspiracies and their perception of nefarious science. What is behind the anti-vaxxer movement? I will eventually write a post on the sociology of why this movement has gained support and what can be done about it, but for now I reproduce my comments from another thread filled with these conspiracy theories (http://goo.gl/KqwiVk). My post below presents scientific evidence about the fraud that inspired the anti-vaxxer movement.
The Australian Government is getting ready to displace Indigenous Australians living in over 150 remote communities in Western Australia, in a bid to save money. Rather than fixing existing social services, Indigenous Australians will be forced to move from their homes. This poorly conceived policy is nothing short of colonial violence, by dispossessing our traditional land owners from their homes. Continue reading Displacement of Indigenous Australians
Indigenous health continue to be in a woeful state in Australia. In late August, a young Yamatji woman, Ms Dhu, died in police custody in Western Australia due to lack of basic health services. She was arrested for not paying a fine. She had a blister that seems to have become infected, and she was vomiting and screaming in pain for hours. Plus she had fractured ribs. She pleaded with police to be taken to hospital. The police ignored her pleas: “when the cops finally took her to hospital they were laughing and saying she was acting.” She died in hospital.
More recently, an inquest has begun into the death of, Stanley Lord, an Indigenous Australian man who died in custody early last year for a similarly petty issue. He was serving 18 months for driving while disqualified. At the time of his arrest, he was not driving drunk nor was he arrested for reckless driving. He suffered a heart attack in jail after a delay in getting him adequate healthcare, having being resuscitated five times before being taken to hospital.
The argument that Indigenous people should follow the law does nothing to address the inequity of over-policing of Indigenous Australians. Non-Indigenous Australians are not jailed at the same rate for similar misdemeanour offences. Paying fines is difficult for Australia’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable. It should not cost them their lives. Continue reading Impact of Injustice on Indigenous Australian Health
Last time, I talked about the problem with holding up celebrity lifestyle habits as reasonable health advice. A popular young American actress had reportedly suggested that genital yeast infection and other genital conditions can be cured by exposing vaginas to sunlight. She shared this information during an interview, saying she read this advice in an article by “an herbalist.” The media jovially shared this story, especially when a writer decided to try it out and recommend the practice, not bothering to investigate whether the health claim was true. This is my second in-depth case study showing why it’s especially damaging to present celebrity ideas about women’s health without consideration to the social impact.
Today let’s look at why the so-called “Rushing Woman’s Syndrome” is scientifically invalid. This is a marketing term coined by a self-described “holistic nutrition specialist” who argues that women who feel emotionally overwhelmed and who show other signs of mental illness are abnormal. She argues their emotional issues boil down to a busy lifestyle and hormone imbalance. A celebrity athlete and parts of the Australian media ran with this term, giving the impression that women’s emotions need “biochemical” intervention (at the cost of $600 a pop). This narrative grossly penalises women’s expression of their emotional wellbeing and serves only to stigmatise both women as “moody bitches” (quote used by celebrity Lisa Curry) and it further stigmatises mental illness.
Vulnerable women who are suffering depression or who may not understand their bodies do not need to be exposed to pseudoscience. The individual musings of celebrities can be ignored at the individual level. At the social level, however, the media have cultural authority and a responsibility to inform readers about health issues. This is done by drawing on expert advice, not egging on damaging celebrity endorsements. Continue reading Women’s Mental Health and Celebrity Culture
Many people understand that celebrities are not health experts, yet the media persist on giving them a public forum to share their health and lifestyle advice. Journalists insist on printing celebrity musings without critical insight. This is dangerous. We see this in the anti-vaccine movement, but it’s pervasive in other ways. Over the next couple of days I’ll present a couple of case studies focusing on why it’s especially damaging to present celebrity ideas about women’s health without consideration to the social impact.
First up, I show the problems of presenting scientifically invalid ideas about vaginal health. A popular young American actress, Shailene Woodley, has reportedly suggested that genital yeast infection and other genital conditions can be cured by exposing vaginas to sunlight. She says she read this advice in an article by “an herbalist.” The media has repeated this advice and even recommended it with relish.
Young women who have limited access to sexual health education and who may not understand their bodies do not need to be exposed to pseudoscience. The individual musings of celebrities can be ignored at the individual level. At the social level, however, the media have cultural authority and a responsibility to inform readers about health issues. This is done by drawing on expert advice, not egging on damaging celebrity endorsements.
I first wrote this post for Science on Google+ and the response has been highly emotional and very far removed from the evidence presented. My interest in this story is on the epidemiology of disease, given my work on the sociology of health. Misinformation on the spread and management of infection can severely impede public health campaigns. While bioethics is an important issue to openly debate, the fact is that this particular story about virology research has been hyped up by journalists. The media created a moral panic using doomsday scenarios about what might happen if this research “escaped the lab,” without seriously reviewing the researcher’s body of work, as discussed in the post below.
I’ve previously written that when people think about scientific risks regarding a topic they are uninformed about, they are less likely to support such risks if they have vested interests such as political or personal biases. I’ve also shown how public trust in science is also influenced by education and belief systems. Bad science reporting only serves to complicate things by presenting sensationalist views (see my post http://goo.gl/mcqxWY).
You may have seen the media circulating a sensationalised story about the research by Professor of Virology, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, who works at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kawaoka studies influenza viruses, specifically the “molecular mechanism of interspecies transmission of the virus leading to influenza pandemics in humans. His previous research explores genetic compatibility between swine-origin influenza virus (S-OIV), a contemporary avian flu (H5N1 virus) and human influenza viruses. He also examines why, in rare cases, viruses such as avian H5N1, H7, and H9N2 become transmitted across animals species to humans even though they do not spread efficiently from person to person.
Kawaoka has published various studies to determine how different types of influenza viruses work their way from species to species through various modes of transmission. This includes a comparison of duck and quail flu transmission to humans (the latter is a potential point of transmission to humans; swine influenza in macaques (closely mimicking influenza in humans; and the spread of H5N1 influenza viruses in mammals in a study of ferrets and hamsters.
His work is also important in understanding why some influenza viruses affect some groups of people more than others, such as in a study comparing swine-origin H1N1 influenza virus in mouse models from Norway, Osaka and California (see images). The study showed the that pathogenic strains possibly develop in response to aberrant immune responses in some people, leading to lethal results in a minority of humans. Vaccines are imperative but they have limited viability, and so combined therapies appear to be more effective.
Sites like The Independent,The Daily Mail,Gizmodo and others have run scaremongering headlines such as – “Scientist creates new flu virus that can kill all of humanity.” These news reports emphasise that Kawaoka’s ongoing research is unpublished but they claim that his work is reckless and divisive amongst the scientific community. The fact is that all research remains unpublished until it’s gone through peer-review; there’s nothing under-handed about this, it’s simply the scientific process. These news stories make it seem like Kawaoka is manufacturing viruses that might easily escape into the public. This fear is unfounded as there have been no reported breaches of protocol. This is nothing more than irresponsible reporting. Research labs are closely monitored. There is enough of Kawaoka’s research available in the public domain to demonstrate its scientific rigour and value.
Social science research shows that media hype shapes public responses to disease. Misinformation about the epidemiology of illness – the spread, causes and social dynamics of disease, can severely impact how the public responds to both epidemics and pandemics. Kawaoka’s research evaluates the transmission and generation of pandemic viruses across various species and to people. This work is important because influenza viruses do not spread consistently across populations. We need to better understand these patterns in order to plan and prevent pandemics that might otherwise severely impact public health. Poor science reporting serves to spread fear, rather than educate and ultimately undermines public health efforts.
As our Science on Google+ Moderator, Professor Rajini Rao, points out:
there is no truth to the claim that the scientific community is split over this research. The news sites do not provide credible links to substantiate this claim because it’s not true. This sort of viral research is not unusual and it is the basis for making anti-viral therapy. Unfortunately, this sort of media hype comes up at regular intervals.
Check out these past debunking posts that delve into misinformation about similar research, by Prof Rao and Dr Tommy Leung.
If you still have questions after reading this post read this analysis of the unfounded critiques of the virology research in question.
All cited research has been conducted by teams of researchers, with Prof Kawaoka being one of several authors, and not necessarily the lead investigator.
Image Credit Ryuta Uraki et. al., 2013 “Virulence Determinants of Pandemic A(H1N1)2009 Influenza Virus in a Mouse Model,” Journal of Virology, vol. 87 no. 4. Notes in images are direct quotes from the paper.
Sociologist & public health researcher, Sara Shoener, critiques the dangerous narrative that positions two-parent households as a protection for women and children from domestic abuse. The Washington Post ran a reckless piece of social science by a conservative sociologist who made this claim based on poor use of statistics. This researcher, writing for The New York Times, has conducted ethnographic research on how the criminal justice system handles domestic abuse cases. Her data illustrate the damage of the two parent myth.
“Prioritising two-parent families tethers victims of violence to their assailants, sacrifices safety in the name of parental rights and helps batterers maintain control. Sweeping rhetoric about the value of marriage and father involvement is not just incomplete. For victims of domestic violence, it’s dangerous… Mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, judges and members of the clergy often showed greater concern for the maintenance of a two-parent family than for the safety of the mother and her children. Women who left abusive men were frequently perceived at best as mothers who had not successfully kept their children out of harm’s way and at worst as liars who were alienating children from their fathers.”