Sex, Lies, and the Media

Thomas J. FlemingPaying attention to the news may be dangerous to your physical and moral health. I am sure it lowers the IQ. It is not so much that news reports contain lies (though they frequently do) or that reporting and commentary on subjects ranging from Global Warming to Hate Crimes are mere propaganda exercises (as they almost always are). What is more disturbing, however, is the failure to ask the necessary questions or put a story in any context that is not a liberal morality play. It is next to impossible, for example, to understand the risks that smoking entails because some of the most basic statistics are never discussed. It is easy to find out how many lung cancer patients smoked cigarettes, but not at all easy to discover what percentage of smokers die of lung cancer.

Consider the hoopla over Governor Perry’s attempt to force Texas girls to receive the HPV vaccine. Conservatives were justifiably angry over the moral issue. Perry apparently assumes that most girls are sexually active from an early age and that neither parents nor Texas schools are willing to do anything about it. If I were a Texas father of a teenage girl, before blowing my top, I would like to know the risks. It is very difficult when typical headlines read: HPV crops up in over 25% of women studied

This LA Times story continues:

“A study of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus has found that 3.4% of females in the U.S. ages 14 to 59 are infected with at least one of four viral types that could be blocked by the controversial vaccine Gardasil, researchers reported Tuesday.”

What sense can anyone possibly make of this? First of all, we learn that 25% of women studied are infected with HPV but only 3.4% have one of the four types prevented by Gardasil. Apparently, there is a vast family of HPV viruses, many of them fairly harmless. What we would want to know is (1) what percentage of women with cervical cancer are infected with the virus, (2) what percentage of women have the types of the virus that is associated with cervical cancer, (3) What percentage of women infected with this type of HPV develop cervical cancer, and (4) is the deadly form transmitted only by sexual contact, and, if so, what type? Can a faithful husband, for example, become infected and in turn infect his wife? Are promiscuous women more at risk than virtuous women?

My first attempt to answer the questions netted the following unsatisfactory but useful results:

The answer to (1) approaches 100%. The answer to (2), according to some news reports is 2%. As for (3) I don’t know, though I have read that 1% of women with genital HPV develop cervical cancer. On the subject of (4), I have read some reports that suggest that “risky” sexual behavior is implicated, by which, presumably, is meant gross promiscuity. Anal sex has been correlated, for example, with HPV-caused anal cancer.

I am still in the dark and, if ABCCBCSFOXNY/LATIMES have their way, I will never be enlightened. On balance, knowing the way men are, I might easily choose to have even the purest of daughters vaccinated to protect her from her husband.

After scratching out the above paragraph, I asked a colleague to put the questions to a family member who is a biological researcher. After a few days, the researcher struck a bonanza in the February, 2007 number of the Journal of the American Medical Association: “Prevalence of HPV Infection Among Females in the United States” by 7 authors, three of whom work for the CDC.

This article sheds light on most of my questions. To (1), the authors claim that “high-risk HPV types are detected in 99% of cervical cancers,” while 70% of cases are “due to HPV types 16 and 18 (covered by the vaccine). Unless I am misreading the article, the vaccine would not protect against the other 30%.

(2) About 15% of women (in all age groups) are infected with high-risk HPV, while nearly 18% have the low-risk types.

(3) I still don’t know but am seeking further information.

(4) The JAMA study is particularly illuminating on what might be called life-style questions. 28% of women who have had sexual relations are infected by HPV as opposed to 5% of those who claim never to have had sex—though the authors do cite evidence that some of these self-described celibate women are lying. This is consistent with the evidence that once made researchers begin to suspect that HPV infections were sexually transmitted: Nuns have a vastly lower incidence than prostitutes. Other factors associated with significantly higher incidence of HPV include: Number of sexual partners in a life time, total number of partners within the year (from 19% for 0 to 56 % for more than 6). Widows, divorcees, and shack-ups are about three times more likely to be infected than married women.

I am not at all interested in STD’s, but in a few days I was able to gain some basic knowledge of the HPV vaccine. This can only mean that the big news outlets either do not want to know the truth or are too stupid to know how to frame the questions.

There are many excuses for the confused state of understanding. The simplest and perhaps least significant excuse is money: Merck has been buying TV time, along with political staffers and legislators. More important is the general cultural bias in favor of fornication and adultery. What used to be known as “free love” is an international human right, even though practicing free love can be costly: Syphilis, gonorrhea, Hepatitis, AIDS, and cervical cancer. If everyone had to pay for his own treatment—or die—some of us might think twice before engaging in risky behavior. But in a country where the President describes a Lesbian as a wonderful mother, personal responsibility is unfashionable. Frankly, I don’t care much what people do. Let them kill themselves, trying to perform every act described in the Philosophie dans le boudoir. All I ask is two things: Don’t tell me about it and don’t ask me to prolong your suicide by subsidizing it.

But Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric, and Brian Williams (and their writers and handlers) are probably not intelligent enough to be active promoters of the Playboy Philosophy. Even if they wanted to promote virtue and truth, they would not know how to go about it. They are too stupid to ask any of the right questions, and their stupidity is a fatal disease that has long infected the American mind and is now, from bad reporting on medical science, infecting our bodies.

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