NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who usually writes about politics has now taken on science, but science is so politicized these days, there's not much difference anymore.
Not surprisingly, his June 28th article (registration may be required) "It's Time to Learn From Frogs," covers the oh-so-trendy and mostly junk science world of endocrine disruptors.
He mentions Louis Guillette's iconic work on phallus size in alligators (1995). Guillette compared the penis size of alligators from polluted Lake Apopka in Florida to those in supposedly pristine Lake Woodruff. The pop media takeaway from the study was that the Apopka alligators had smaller penises—certainly caused by the pollution—but the pop findings tended to ignore the many caveats in the study, as well as further points that can be raised.
For one thing, there is a possibility that some of the animals were not even sexed properly in the first place...
Due to the greatly reduced size of the penis in many males from Lake Apopka, and the fact that the cliteropenis of male and female alligators is similar in basic structure (see Allsteadt and Lang, 1995; Pickford, 1995), a source of error in sexing animals is possible. That is, the greatly reduced male phallus could appear similar to a slightly enlarged female clitoris.
The Apopka alligators showed other abnormalities, which tend to skew the findings touted by Guillette...
- Penis length did not correlate with plasma testosterone concentrations in the Apopka alligators, as is customary
- No relationship existed between penis size and body size in the Apopka alligators (in one area of the lake), as is also customary
The data does show considerable individual differences, with overlap between the alligators of the bad lake and the good lake. Guillette et al. take the trouble to add this qualifier:
However, it is important to note that a difference in the length of the penis tip and the diameter of the penis cuff occurred in all size classes of juveniles when the two lakes were compared.
In other words, individual differences exist, and since the purported effect of the polluted lake was not that great anyway, the findings here could just as easily melt away.
We also note that Tim Gross, an associate of Guillette on several papers, has said that Guillette's work is based on "weak data," in that Guillette did not know the age of the alligators, and whether their phalluses were still growing. Guillette's answer was that phallus size relates to body size, but how can that be reconciled with the opposite finding above? (second bullet point)
Kristof reports on the feminization of male smallmouth bass in the Potomac River watershed, widely blamed on estrogens in the water. The intersex fish finding is disturbing, and similar results have been reported in several other locations. However, it all depends on whose ox is gored.
There is little doubt that the source of the estrogens is human urine, fortified with the metabolites of birth control pills and patches, passing unchanged through sewage treatment.
One wonders how many Lefty Greens will tell women to stop practicing artificial birth control to save the bass. Heck, forget the bass. Numerous studies have found these estrogens in municipal drinking water, but the Greenies don't see this as an issue, because the source of the pollution is politically correct.
Just one more example of hypocritical Greenie nonsense.
Kristof then refers to the appearance of certain male urogenital abnormalities, although a recent study covering a large population in the state of New York has debunked this.
He discusses the synthetic estrogen DES—a powerful endocrine disruptor given to millions of women from the late 1930s to the early 1970s—for the prevention of miscarriages. Sadly, not only did DES not prevent miscarriages, but it caused certain abnormalities in the children of some of these women.
Kristof does not mention that these effects were only seen in women who took exceptionally high doses of DES, and that DES is a much more powerful disruptor than any of chemicals mentioned in his article. Moreover, when used in smaller doses, deleterious effects were essentially unknown.
According to renowned toxicologist Robert Golden: "Extrapolate from the DES record, and you can conclude that one endocrine modulator environmentalists most love to hate, the pesticide DDT, would cause no endocrine effect in a fetus exposed to more than a pound of DDT over the course of a pregnancy."
We have already commented on the shamelessly alarmist statement issued by the Endocrine Society—referenced by Kristof.
We conclude by reiterating the observations of Gail Charnley, former president of the Society for Risk Analysis: "The whole field of endocrine disruption is a conclusion in search of data."
Next time, Nicholas, read up on more than one side of an issue. Then again, don't change a thing. It's easier to mock you just the way you are.