Tag Archive | "Barbara Seaman"

How Senator Tito Sotto Misused Barbara Seaman’s Book


Senator Tito Sotto: Dishonest, Deceptive, and Intellectually Lazy (Part 2)

In Part 1, we have learned how the theme of The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth1, as well as Barbara Seaman’s political position, cannot be deemed as supportive of Sotto’s claim. Here, we will examine how exactly Sotto used the book to support his claims, and see whether he is right in doing so.

Sotto said that “The Greatest Experiment… stated that those who take pills but still got pregnant have more abnormal children and lower I.Q.” In order for us to believe him, we should verify whether or not this was really stated in Seaman’s book; and if yes, determine whether Sotto used it in the right context.

It wasn’t easy to find this supposed statement because Sotto, or whoever wrote his speech, didn’t offer the exact quotation. It was a summary of some sorts. (Perhaps next time, speech writers should learn how to footnote references: it’s good practice, it’s part of their job, and it wouldn’t take so much of their time.)

In order for us to verify the truthfulness behind Sotto’s words, we have to dissect his statement into three parts, and see whether we can find textual support from The Greatest Experiment.

A. There are women who got pregnant even though they take contraceptive pills;

B. These women have more abnormal children; and

C. These women have children of lower IQ.

There are women who got pregnant even though they take contraceptive pills…

I cannot find anything in Seaman’s book that supports this assertion. As I’m using the ePub version of the book, it is easy to find references to “pregnant women”. According to my search, these are the instances The Greatest Experiment used the word “pregnant” in relation to hormone products (NB: For obvious reasons, I’ve removed references to pregnant non-human animals such as mice and rabbits):

In Chapter 2:

“It is estimated that in the years from 1941 to 1971, over four million pregnant women in the United States were treated with nonsteroidal synthetic estrogen on the contention that it would prevent miscarriages and ensure their babies’ health.”

In Chapter 5:

“But there was this Texas fellow, Karl John Karnaky, a wealthy man who ran his own clinic, with no trustees or review board to question his methods of injecting stilbestrol directly into the wombs of pregnant women to prevent miscarriages.”

In Chapter 8:

“We were swamped with questions and comments on Enovid, the first oral contraceptive. Some viewers were disappointed that it ruined their sex lives, making them feel toujours pregnant.”

“Much less recognized in the 1960s, but nonetheless a part of our lives and of the Greatest Experiment, was Charlie Dodds’s misbegotten diethylstilbestrol, which held a larger share of the market than any other hormone. It was still prescribed for pregnant women, although the Karnaky/Smith claims that it would prevent miscarriage were never proved.”

In Chapter 10:

“If you miss two periods, see your doctor even though you have been taking the pill as directed. When you stop taking the pill, your periods may be irregular for some time. During this time, you may have trouble becoming pregnant.”

In Appendix: Over the Menopausal Rainbow:

“Pregnant women should avoid skin contact with testosterone topical gel application site in men.”

In Note 39:

“DES (diethylstilbestrol) is a synthetic estrogen drug that was given to millions of pregnant women primarily from 1938-1971.”

“Cancer: All DES daughters (women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them) have a risk of about 1 in 1,000 for a rare cancer of the vagina or cervix called clear cell adenocarcinoma.”

In Note 64:

“In 1936 and 1937, Dr. White treated pregnant diabetics experimentally with Butenandt’s products prolutun and progynon , but no sooner did Doods publish his formula than she switched to stilbestrol.”

The Chapter 8 of the book actually has a passage very fatal to Sotto’s contention that Seaman’s book state that “there are women who got pregnant even though they take contraceptive pills.” In this chapter Seaman quoted Dr. Elizabeth Siegel Watkins’ On the Pill: A Social History of Oral Contraceptives (1998), a book that Seaman called “authoritative.” It was a long quote that ended in this sentence: “The pill offered easy, reliable effective protection against pregnancy, which empowered women to plan when to have children and how many to have.”  Is Sotto, or his staff, aware of this? Not, if they haven’t actually read the entire book.

The women who got pregnant even though they take contraceptive pills have more abnormal children…

There is no reference to this in Seaman’s book. However, in Note 203 of the book, there is a reference to a study entitled “Limb Malformation and Abnormal Sex Hormone Concentration in Frogs.” Is Sotto referring to this one?

Perhaps Sotto is referring to this passage in Chapter 2 of the book:

“The Shimkin-Grady paper was far from the only warning about DES. Dr. Charles Geschicter of Johns Hopkins reported in Radiology magazine that he produced mammary cancer in Wistar rats by injecting them with DES and other estrogens. Probably more shocking was the much later discovery by Dr. Karnaky of Houston and Drs. George and Olive Smith of Harvard and others who followed their lead of the abnormalities in the reproductive organs of children of mother given DES in pregnancy.” (emphasis mine)

However, this doesn’t support Sotto’s claim at all. First, nothing in this passage refer to women taking contraceptive pills. The passage clearly refers to pregnant women who were given DES, which, according to Note 39 of the book, is a synthetic estrogen drug used from 1938-1971 to prevent miscarriages. Second, DES is not a contraceptive pill. And third, the abnormalities of the reproductive organs of the children were linked not to the contraceptive pills taken by women before they got pregnant BUT to the DES pill women took when they were pregnant.  How is this related to the RH Bill can only be explained by the bizarre workings of the mind of Sotto and his staff.

It is also worth noting that women who are pregnant should never take any drugs that have hormones in them. Even the product information of Diane, the contraceptive pill that, according to Sotto, Helen Gamboa used, clearly says this: “This medication should not be taken by pregnant women as it can cause harm to the developing baby. If you become or suspect that you may be pregnant while taking this medication, contact your doctor immediately. After stopping treatment, you should wait until at least one normal menstrual cycle has occurred before trying to get pregnant.” If Gamboa was really taking Diane during that time, perhaps the reason their first born son died of heart complications was that she kept on ingesting Diane even though she was pregnant.

Nothing in Seaman’s book provides evidence to Sotto’s claim that taking contraceptive pills when you are not pregnant can cause harm to your future babies. What the book says is that taking estrogen products while you are pregnant can cause harm to your baby.

The women who got pregnant even though they take contraceptive pills have children with lower IQ

IQ is only mentioned twice in Seaman’s book. These two instances can be found in two related paragraphs in Chapter 2:

“In the mid-1950’s, numerous Auschwitz survivors told Dr. Jean Jofen, a psychologist at City University in New York, that they were fed daily doses of liquid estrogen in their rutabaga soup. The women stopped menstruating and the men lost their sex drive, just as the Nazis expected. But these refugees were not left permanently sterile. Indeed, Dr. Jojen, herself born in Vienna, had occasion to question these Auschwitz survivors because she was testing the IQs of their five-year-old children at a Hebrew parochial school.” (emphasis mine)

“When I interviewed Dr. Jofen in 1976, she recalled that ‘the synthetic estrogens were similar to those found in the current pill. They just poured it in the soup. There was no dosage.’ She later said the contraceptive pill was called salitrum. There were long-term repercussions to this fortified soup. In a paper presented at the fifth World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, Jofen reported that after testing hundreds of children of holocaust survivors, the Auschwitz contingent had the lowest IQ range. Jofen wondered if the hormone experiments did some permanent harm to the ova of these mothers. The comparison group, mothers who’d been interned at other concentration camps, also endured dreadful conditions, but they received no estrogen and their children’s IQs were higher.” (emphasis mine)

Hurray! We now have passages that might actually support Sotto’s claims! But not so fast. These two passages need to be analyzed.

First, this passage is referring to “liquid estrogen,” called salitrum, fed by the Nazi’s to the Jewish men and women interned in Auschwitz. Although Dr. Jofen said that this is similar to the contraceptive pill used in the 70’s, this cannot support current circumstances. In order for Sotto to be able to use this passage to support his claim, he needs to prove that the current contraceptive pills are similar to salitrum. And second, this passage only refers to children born of mothers who were fed liquid estrogen in Auschwitz, the findings of Dr. Jofen cannot be used outside this context.

In order for Sotto to effectively use these passages as a valid support for his claim he needs to:

1) provide robust arguments that the conditions in Auschwitz are similar to the Philippines;

2) the RH Bill is going to feed women liquid estrogen; and

3) the contraceptive pills that the government will be distributing for free is similar to salitrum.

Unfortunately, he has not demonstrated this in his speech, so we have no reason to be persuaded by him, unless of course we don’t care about the truthtfulness of Sotto’s claim.

Conclusion

In sum, assuming that Sotto and I are referring to the same book, Barbara Seaman’s The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth does not in anyway support Senator Tito Sotto’s claims. More importantly, after learning who Barbara Seaman is, there is no reason to believe that Seaman herself will support Sotto’s position on the RH Bill. Seaman must be rolling in her grave right now.

Lastly, we have to ask whether Sotto and whoever is responsible for his speech have actually read Barbara Seaman’s book. Did they really research? If they have read it, they have either “accidentally” misinterpreted the book or deliberately twisted Seaman’s arguments in order to support Sotto’s position regarding the RH Bill. If they haven’t read it, why on earth are  they using it as their evidence? That is a very irresponsible and deceptive act.

The Philippine constitution says that ability to read and write is one of the requirements of being a senator. Ability to read must be interpreted to include the ability to comprehend what you are reading. Sotto may be able to read, but does he have the ability to comprehend what he is reading? Based on this instance, he doesn’t. Senator Tito Sotto’s turno en contra speech is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Ordinary students are routinely punished for dishonesty, deception, and intellectual laziness, why would a senator get away with it?

1 In this article, I’m using the ePub version of Barbara Seaman’s The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth being sold at Kobo books.

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Senator Tito Sotto: Dishonest, Deceptive, and Intellectually Lazy (Part 1)


According to one of the greatest senators of our republic, the “Filipino people are worth dying for”, aren’t they worth properly citing, reliably researching, and thoroughly analysing for?

Introduction

Senator Tito Sotto, his staff, and his fans club should not confuse his other profession as an actor with his being a senator. Sotto, as an actor, is not responsible for what he is saying or even doing when he plays a character in a film, sitcom, or teleserye. If Sotto plays the character of a dishonest, deceptive, and intellectually lazy senator in a film, only those who cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction will seek to either correct or condemn him. But when Sotto delivered his turno en contra speech, he is not playing the character role of a senator: He is Senator Tito Sotto, a public servant of the Republic of the Philippines, and his speech writer/researchers are not scriptwriters. All of them are paid by the Filipino people not to entertain but to provide the highest standard of public service. If Sotto’s listeners find out that he is dishonest, deceptive, and intellectually lazy, they have all the right to point it out; they are, after all, not paying him to be that kind of senator. Even if he is presenting an argument that we don’t agree with, he still has to deliver those arguments with the highest standard of research and reading comprehension.

After his first speech, it was found out that he plagiarized – not just once but several times in the same speech. To be fair, Sotto is not the only one in world history that has committed this lapse in judgment. In 1991, the New York Times reported that after a thorough investigation of the committee formed by Boston University, it was verified that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “plagiarized passages in his dissertation for a doctoral degree.”  Although they didn’t ask for the revocation of Rev. King’s doctoral degree, the committee recommended “that a letter stating its finding be placed with the official copy of Dr. King’s dissertation in the university’s library.” This demonstrates that plagiarism, even if committed by a Nobel Laureate or a world hero, is still plagiarism.

Plagiarism does not automatically diminish the value of your arguments. What it does is tarnish your character and betrays your thinking style: Are plagiarists thoughtful thinkers or are they ungrateful parrots who only repeat what they have heard and read?  In Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students, a guide developed for Harvard University’s Expository Writing Program, Gordon Harvey defines plagiarism as “the act of passing off information, ideas, or words of another as your own, by failing to acknowledge their source-an act of lying, cheating, and stealing.” Sotto claimed that he graduated from “the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.” If so, then he must be aware of the strict rules against plagiarism of his alma mater, as stated in the Harvard Guide to Using Sources. Harvard Guide provides two reasons why their students should properly cite their sources:

 First, citing sources allows scholars to give credit to other scholars for their hard work and their ideas. Second, by citing sources, scholars provide a roadmap for readers who are interested in learning more about a topic and joining the ongoing conversation about that topic. (emphasis mine)

The first reason is about basic respect and humility. It takes so much time and energy to think, research, and craft a thoughtful argument. Using someone else’s hard work as your source is of course allowed, that’s just how knowledge develops. Even if your source is a blog, you have to properly cite it. All citations styles – such as MLA, APA, and Chicago – agree that blogs, even blog comments, should be properly cited. Even if you are citing a citation made in another person’s work, you still have to inform your listeners about it. With Sotto’s Harvard education, as well as his staffs’ educational attainment, there is no way they don’t know this. Moreover, there are a lot of free resources online that can guide them how to cite properly. One website even does the citing for you (see: EasyBib.com)! And no, this is not just about complying with the legal rules of copyright as what Atty. Hector Villacorta, the chief of staff of Sen. Sotto, would like to make it appear. This is just plain gratitude and honesty. Citing your sources is respecting the hard work of the author/s of your sources. With this respect comes the humility to accept that your ideas are not original, they came from other people. And with humility, comes gratitude, or in our culture, “utang na loob.” Respect, humility, honesty, and gratitude are values prior to legal ones.

Harvard Guide’s second reason points us to something more practical. Citing your sources allows your listeners to know the richer context of your arguments. Thoughtful speakers and writer make thoughtful listeners and readers – but they cannot be thoughtful listeners and readers if they cannot thoroughly examine the content and context of your arguments. You cannot just tell your listeners or readers that this is the truth; they need to know the basis of your truth-claims so they can decide for themselves whether or not your arguments are persuasive enough. This point is wonderfully summed up by Charles Lipson in Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles – MLA, APA, Chicago, the Sciences, Professions, and More. Besides upholding important social values, properly citing your sources “show[s] readers the materials on which you base your analysis, your narrative, your conclusions…[and] guide readers to the materials you have used so they can examine it for themselves. Their interest might be to confirm your work, to challenge it, or simply to explore it further.” How can the Filipino people verify the veracity of Sotto’s arguments if he doesn’t properly cite them? But in fairness to Sotto, he did cite some of his sources, allowing us to look more deeply into his arguments.

In this article, we will analyze whether one of the sources Sotto mentioned in Part 2 of his turno en contra speech actually supports his claims. I am referring to Barbara Seaman’s The Greatest Experiement Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth. It is one of the evidences he presented to support his claim that contraceptive pills have bad effects to children born of mothers using them (“…mga pag-aaral na makakapagpatunay na mayroong masamang epekto ang contraceptives sa kalusugan ng mga bata na pinanganak ng mga ina na gumagamit ng contraceptives”).

The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth

This is exactly how Sotto used  Barbara Seaman’s book:

In the book entitled ‘The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth’ by Barbara Seaman, it was stated that those who take pills but still got pregnant have more abnormal children and lower I.Q. (Hindi naman po siguro kelangan pa na maging doctor ang isang tao para lamang malaman ang maaaring maging kumplikasyon ng pag-gamit ng pills ngunit nagbuntis pa din di ba?).

This is actually an iteration of the statement Sotto made in the media when former Department of Health Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral challenged the claim he made in the Part 1 of his turno en contra speech that his first son died because his wife Helen Gamboa used contraceptive pills. Sotto said:

Based on [s]tudies yes those on pills who got pregnant have more abnormal children and lower IQ. From the book ‘Greatest experiment ever performed on women’ by Barbara Seaman. Tell them to read it. [It’s] available on line or order from amazon.com.

In order for us to determine whether Seaman’s book supports Sotto’s claims, we have to answer several questions:

  1. What is the book about?
  2. Who is Barbara Seaman?
  3. What is the exact quotation from Seaman’s book?
  4. What is the context of the passage?

We will answer 1 and 2 in this article, while 3 and 4 will be explored in Part 2.

What is the book about? Who is Barbara Seaman?

In a eulogy in The New York Times, Barbara Seaman (1935-2008) is described as “a writer and patients’ rights advocate who was one of the first people to bring the issue of women’s reproductive health to wide public attention.” She is one of the founders of National Women’s Health Network (NWHN). According to their website, NWHN “aspires to a health care system that is guided by social justice, in which all women have access to excellent health care that meets [the diverse needs of women].” Their goals include the following:

(1)    “…ensure that every woman can make her own decisions about her reproductive and sexual health;”

(2)    “…advocates for comprehensive, accessible contraceptive and abortion care, accurate information about sexuality and reproduction, and tools women can use to protect against HIV and sexually transmitted infection;”

(3)    “…promote access to safe and effective reproductive health products and services, with complete information and without ideological restrictions;” and

(4)    “…ensure that women have complete and accurate information about products and services marketed to them, and strengthens public protections against such threats.”

Given Seaman’s political position, how on earth Sotto – or whoever is responsible for his speech – used Seaman’s work to aid his arguments is baffling.  But let’s still give Sotto (and his speech writer/researcher) the benefit of the doubt…

What brought Seaman to fame (or notoriety) is her 1969 book The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill, which exposed the risks of high-dose estrogen birth control pills. In the foreword of the 25th Anniversary Edition of the book (1995), Claudia Dreifus writes how The Doctor’s Case led to a US Senate hearing about the concerns raised by Seaman: “The result [of the hearing] was a mandate that patient package inserts be included in all birth control pill packages.” According to NWHN’s profile of Seaman, this was the “first on any prescription drug,” leading the way for other prescription drugs to have their own package inserts that will inform people of their potential risks and adverse effects. Sotto could have used The Doctor’s Case as his textual support for his arguments, but we all know he didn’t. Instead, he used Seaman’s The Greatest Experiment. But using The Doctor’s Case wouldn’t also benefit Sotto because the facts and circumstances in that book are radically different from what we have today; and these radical changes are actually caused by Seaman’s exposition in the The Doctor’s Case.  However, The Greatest Experiment is a more bewildering and unfortunate choice of textual support for Sotto. And here’s why…

Published in 2003, The Greatest Experiment is a continuation of Seaman’s investigation on synthetic sex hormones. The Doctor’s Case, Seaman focuses on contraceptive pills taken by women who would like to prevent pregnancy while The Greatest Experiment is about hormone replacement therapy pills taken by women who would like to arrest the effects of menopause.  The Greatest Experiment exposes the risks of hormones being given to women going through their menopause. Nonetheless, even though Seaman is aware of those risks, she didn’t go on advocating for women not to use them at all. She is calling for greater caution in the use of estrogen products and for people to be more informed about them. This she expressed in the introduction of her book. After giving a background story about the meaning of the title of her book, Seaman writes, “estrogen products won’t go away, and they shouldn’t. One can only wish, as I do, that they will be used now with caution, based on evidence and facts, not illusion. My aim is to consider whether hormone supplements are necessary and for whom. Specifically, I hope this book will help women navigate the estrogen issue…But the larger hope is that we can make informed decisions about other drugs as well.”

More importantly,The Greatest Experiment is a fatal choice of textual support for Sotto because in Chapter 10, Seaman reproduced the leaflet FDA Commissioner Dr. Charles Edwards presented during the US Senate hearing about the concerns raised by Seaman in The Doctor’s Case. Seaman praised that leaflet calling “the wording [of the leaflet] helpful and clear,” but she lamented that “it was derailed, in a scandalous manner, by that unholy trio of organized medicine, drug manufacturers, and extremist population controllers.” And here’s what we can find in the leaflet Seaman praised:

All of the oral contraceptive pills are highly effective for preventing pregnancy when taken according to the approved directions. Your doctor has taken your medical history and has given you a careful physical examination. He has discussed with you the risks of oral contraceptives and has decided that you can take this drug safely.

If The Greatest Experiment is to be used at all in the RH Bill debate, the position that this book can support is not whether or not contraceptive pills should be used but whether or not the RH Bill has provisions to: 1) examine the medical history and give a careful physical examination of women before they are given the pill; 2) determine the responsibility of the government for those who will experience adverse reactions to contraceptive pills; and 3) If 1 & 2 are not present in the RH Bill, shouldn’t we include them there?

(In this article, I’m using the ePub version of Barbara Seaman’s The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth being sold at www.kobobooks.com)

In Part 2, we will examine how Sotto used The Greatest Experiment to support his claims, and see whether he is right in doing so.

 

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