Sage advice

Women are being warned not to put herbs in their vaginas after a Marie Claire article suggested that they should use parsley to “kick-start” their periods.

It’s easy to laugh, but it’s actually quite a serious problem: time and again magazines and online magazines aimed at women print deluded and sometimes actively dangerous health advice from people who haven’t got the faintest clue what they’re on about.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop site is a good example: it urges women to do all kinds of dangerous things to their genitals and weasels out of taking responsibility for any resultant injury or infection with a disclaimer effectively saying that “the products or procedures mentioned on the site are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.” Some of Paltrow’s fact-free tips have appeared in supposedly reputable magazines such as Women’s Health.

A few years ago, one study looked at the articles about complementary medicine in a range of women’s magazines. Of the 150 articles studied in 15 women’s magazines, 131 “were written by non medically qualified contributors”. Of the 150 articles, 95 made unsubstantiated claims about herbal “remedies” that can be very dangerous for some people.

I’m surprised Marie Claire slipped up, because as magazines go it’s one of the better ones. But it’s an industry-wide problem. Between “alternative” medicine, dangerous diets and cheerleading for cosmetic surgery, women’s magazines are often really bad for women’s health – and the more magazines move online and become low- or no-paying content farms, the worse the problem is going to become.

Same boss, same bullshit

The Sunday Times isn’t the only supposedly respectable newspaper to mislead its readers in order to parrot the homophobic and transphobic views of its owner, Rupert Murdoch. The Wall Street Journal does it too.

The WSJ appears to have started the new year the way it means to continue, with an op-ed warning readers about the entirely invented syndrome of “rapid onset gender dysphoria”. Regular readers will recall that ROGD is a conservative, anti-trans invention and that the only supposedly scientific paper about it, a study based solely on interviews with parents who refused to believe their kids are trans, was torn to pieces by peers due to its shoddy premise and even shoddier methodology.

In short, ROGD is a right-wing attempt to rebrand conversion therapy, the same “pray the gay away” bullying that’s so awful it’s being made illegal in much of the world.

If you’d like more detail, the inimitable Julia Serano has an excellent round-up here.

I’m not going to link to the WSJ: outrage-clicks are the whole point of this bullshit. Instead, here’s Jennifer Finney Boylan in the New York Times.

An abundance of scientific research makes clear that gender variance is a fundamental truth of human biology, not some wacky dance craze.

Transgender people have not come up with the entirety of our existence solely to hurt Tucker Carlson’s feelings. We do not embark upon transition because it’s groovy. We are here because our hearts demand it.

Mining the culture wars for clicks

Have you seen the gender neutral Santa story? Of course you have. It’s been everywhere. The tale that 1/4 of people want a gender neutral Santa has appeared in my news feeds so often I could recite it from memory, so I will.

A new study found that 25% or 26% or 27% of people – the numbers vary from report to report – want Santa to be gender neutral.

If you’ve reported it like that, you’re on the naughty list.

The “study” was a survey by a graphic design company of a few hundred customers. Those customers of unspecified demographics were specifically asked what gender a modern Santa should be, and given the choice of male, female, or gender neutral.

This is not what you would call a reliable poll.

Nevertheless, the story is everywhere. It’s on BBC Three and in the New York Post, on and PinkNews, on Fox News and Newsweek and in the Mirror and the Daily Mail.

This kind of bullshit infests the media, and it has consequences. As Joseph Earp writes in Junkee:

Throwing out these distorted figures and studies feeds the right-wing lunatics who believe that members of the LGBTQIA community are secretly plotting to take over the culture. And it encourages a pile-on of hatred towards the community from those who consider themselves to be part of the ‘sensible centre’ (whatever that means.)

I’m not sure that Earp is right about the intent of the graphic design company, which “knowingly weaponised the ire of the mainstream media”. I suspect they just thought they were being funny and/or cute.

But there’s no doubt about the malicious intent of much of the reporting. Somehow a bullshit story about a fictional character is evidence of the evils of LGBTQ people generally and trans people in particular.

When the story reaches the likes of the Daily Mail or Breitbart, which of course it has done, it’s presented as the latest example of political correctness gone mad, of the sinister trans lobby pushing its values down ordinary god-fearing people’s throats.

This tweet is by no means unusual.

i’m all for same sex marriage, trans operations, etc,but the LGBTQ+ community is deadass starting to shove their way of life down people’s throats. equal opportunity for shows & movies is great, but not every movie needs a gay lead & Santa doesn’t need to be gender fuckin neutral

This happens time and time again. A story with little or no connection to the LGBTQ community is presented as the latest example of their unreasonable demands and used to demonise them in the media and on social media. It’s already made its way into anti-LGBTQ opinion pieces, and it’ll continue to circulate for years to come as an example of those terrible LGBTQ activists and their unreasonable demands.

Children who behave badly don’t get Christmas presents. Sadly there’s no such penalty for journalists.

Bigots don’t read books. They burn them

Here we go again. In the latest bout of anti-trans madness, washed-up comedy writers are comparing trans people to Nazis to the delight of their many thousands of followers. In the aftermath, Scots MSP and newspaper columnist Joan McAlpine approvingly retweets an anti-trans group – a group that had been invited to the Scots Parliament to discuss gender recognition reform – saying much the same thing. The same group is currently putting anti-trans posters in toilets in Scottish bars.

According to the group, “there’s transactivists who are going to claim they were the victims of Nazis. We need to be clear, the LGBT victims were lesbians & gay men, not people who identify as trans.”

Nope. Trans people were sent to the concentration camps too, usually because the Nazis considered them to be gay. They weren’t big on nuance.

Cisgender, straight white women were okay though. Some of them got to be the camp guards.

The women here are Helferinnen, women auxiliaries. The photo is from Solahuette, a kind of holiday resort for the staff of Auschwitz.


Let’s have some history, shall we?

Before the Nazis came to power, Germany was a centre of excellence for trans knowledge. One of the most notable people in the field was Magnus Hirschfield, whose institute for sexual science carried out extensive research into the psychology and biology of trans people. Hirschfield was the first person to systematically describe and work with people he termed transvestites and transsexuals; what we’d call trans people today.

By the early 1930s, people came from around the world to undergo reassignment surgery in Berlin. Then Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in January 1931. Two years later, his brownshirts broke into Hirschfeld’s institute and burned his journals and research. When Hirschfeld was out of Germany on tour, the Nazi student group marched on the Institute. Over 20,000 books were set aflame, as well as medical diagrams and photographs crucial to understanding sex reassignment surgery. Hirschfeld and his colleagues were Jewish, but it wasn’t just that. Hitler also publicly raged against the “vice” of homosexuality and the “degenerate” lives of transsexuals. They weakened the Aryan cause.

Mia Mulder is a scholar of this particular part of history, and she sets out the detail on Twitter.

It is true that trans people were not categorized specifically as trans by the nazis (with few exceptions), because *they* saw trans people as Gay or lesbian due to a common misunderstanding in medicinal history to link gender and sexual orientation.

… This institute and Magnus himself advocated for LGBT rights in Weimar Germany, provided safe haven for many lgbt people and developed early methods of trans transitioning healthcare, many developed versions of which still exist today.

The Nazis targeted this place and saw no practical difference between LGBT people. They saw us all as sexual degenerates. They were nazis, they’re kind of dicks that way.

Were trans people targeted as a separate category? Mostly, no: they were considered gay or lesbian and given the same pink triangles. But there were exceptions. Sometimes trans people were targeted.

In November 11, 1933 the head of the Hamburg police was told to pay special attention to transvestites (a term which then means trans people as well as cross dressers) and bring them to concentration camps.

in 1938, a german medical journal recommended that the “phenomena of transvestism” be exterminated from public life and said that the current measures (concentration camps) were good enough for this task.

…during the bookburning of the entire library of the institute, the one thing they made sure to not burn was the member roster, which contained names and addresses which they used to round up as many people as they could and shuffle into concentration camps.

That roster, incidentally, is one reason trans people really, really don’t like the idea of any kind of register of trans people being created.

To say trans people weren’t targeted by the Nazis is patently untrue. In fact, it’s Holocaust denial: as soon as you ignore the evidence of what the Nazis did because you hate one of the groups they targeted, you open up the door to others: the homophobes, the racists, the anti-semites.

As a feminist woman I know put it (no name or link because I don’t want to send extremists her way):

This is not difference of opinion, or “debate” or “discussion” or “concern for women.” It is Nazi revisionism and it is fuelled by hatred and it should concern anyone opposed to far right rhetoric creeping into our democracy.

The Holocaust is not, and should never be, something to “debate”.

Words have consequences

The Daily Mail:


Elsewhere in an American high school, members of staff attempt to break into a locked toilet stall because a trans  teenager is in it. In a different school, a lesbian student is beaten up because of her boyish presentation. In October a lesbian woman was kicked out of a bowling alley for looking ‘too masculine’. The same thing happened in North Carolina in June, when a lesbian woman was thrown out of a bathroom by the police: “You got no ID? Get out!” In May, a woman was harassed in a toilet because she was wearing a baseball cap: ‘the woman went up to Aimee and said “you’re disgusting” and “you don’t belong here” before flipping her off.’

This is what happens when you demonise people, when you tell people that someone’s very presence is a threat to you and to your children. For some people, “looking a bit trans” is sufficient grounds for action against a complete stranger who’s minding their own business.

It’s not just people like me. It’s particularly horrific for refugees, especially since the whole Brexit mess began. The Overton Window, the range of political discourse that’s considered acceptable in society, has moved so far to the right that supposedly mainstream political parties are echoing the manifestos of the BNP and other far right groups from previous decades. What used to be unacceptable racism is now “asking difficult questions”.

That demonisation has consequences big and small, and it always, always ends up with people getting attacked. For example, this week we saw horrific footage of a Syrian kid being “waterboarded” by bullies; it’s the latest in a campaign of abuse that’s seen him being doused with water, verbally abused and his hair set on fire, as well as physical violence. His sister has been bullied too.

The same Daily Mail that’s so concerned about Rain Dove was also concerned about this kid: after years of demonising refugees, the Mail can’t imagine why anybody would pick on a child just because he’s Syrian. The Sun thinks it’s a shocking crime too. That’s the same Sun that paid Katie Hopkins to call immigrants “cockroaches”.

You’ve got to admire the process here. First of all, newspapers help to create a climate of fear and hatred. Then, they get to run shocked stories when people act on that fear and hatred.

These publications aren’t just reporting hate crime. They’re fostering it.

God, save me from your idiot followers

SNP MSP John Mason is outraged by plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act.

In a letter to Glasgow’s Herald newspaper, Mr Mason says he is deeply concerned that Scotland is “trying to override science” by recognising that trans people exist.

I’ll save you the scientific evidence, which I’ve linked to endlessly, and simply post this example of Mr Mason’s other robust pro-science views.

Update: Just after I posted this, the following article from Tidsskriftet (the Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association) appeared in my news feed.

the ideas of purity that are partly rooted in national conservatism and partly in religious fundamentalism are not echoed by science.

The timing amused me. Maybe that was part of God’s plan.

How advertising regulation doesn’t work

Last month, the extremely dodgy anti-trans group Fair Play For Women dropped a five-figure sum on a full page advert in the Metro claiming that reforms to the Gender Recognition Act would threaten women’s safety. It was cynical. It was designed to whip up hatred. And it was absolute bullshit.

Some of us complained to the Advertising Standards Agency, which regulates print advertising. They’ve just sent me their verdict.

With regards to the complaint you made, also along with several other complainants, we understand that you are concerned that the ad misleadingly implied that women will be at risk as a result of the Gender Recognition Act consultation. After assessing the ad in light of this concern, we think it may have broken the Advertising Rules on misleadingness and we have taken steps the address this.

Unfortunately the verdict is irrelevant and the steps – telling the group not to make such claims again – are pointless. The advertisement ran, the government consultation is now closed. Trans people were silenced; unfortunately the bigots weren’t.

Twitter’s cowardice is all about one man

No, not its boss, Jack Dorsey. This guy.

Twitter doesn’t want to move against hatemongers such as Alex Jones because if they do, it begs the question: why not Trump?

The short answer is: $2 billion.

That’s how much the Trump account is believed to be worth to Twitter, which is why it hasn’t blocked him despite him frequently posting abusive and threatening tweets and occasionally making nuclear threats to world leaders. That’s all fine, because Trump is “newsworthy”.

Dorsey mouths platitudes about freedom of speech, but his only concern is Twitter’s freedom to make money.

Can you trust tabloid “video game addiction” stories?

Two days ago, the Daily Mirror ran a horrifying story of video game addiction. “Fortnite Made Me A Suicidal Drug Addict”, the headline screamed.

It was harrowing stuff describing “video game hell” that led to an abortive suicide attempt.

Was it exaggerated? It certainly looks that way. Eurogamer is on the case.

There’s no evidence to suggest the Mirror’s Fortnite story was fabricated. But when you pull back the curtain and discover how these types of articles are put together, when you understand how some mainstream journalism works, it’s hard not to wonder about the motivations of the parties involved.

Mobile phones still don’t cause cancer

No it can’t.

When it comes to conspiracy theories, there are two kinds of theorists: the batshit insane, and the people who genuinely believe they’ve stumbled on a conspiracy.

There was a good example of what I assume is the latter last week in The Observer, which published an astonishing piece about the link between mobile phones and cancer. It turns out that mobile phones really do cause cancer, and there’s a global conspiracy to cover it up.

No they don’t, and no there isn’t.

This is something I know a fair bit about, because I’ve covered the subject a lot over the last two decades. Whether it’s phones or wireless networks, every now and then someone comes along and misunderstands the science to conclude that our brains are being cooked and there’s a conspiracy to cover it up.

Part of the problem is the word “radiation”. We assume that all radiation is ionising radiation, the kind that gives you skin cancer. But radiation also includes the radio waves that bring you Radio Scotland and the light waves coming from your light bulbs.

The radiation from phones and wireless routers is very low powered, non-ionising radiation. As far as science is aware, there is no possible way the radiation from these devices can cause cancer.

The Observer has run a follow-up piece this week, this time by somebody who knows the science. It gives the authors of the previous article a very polite but very thorough kicking.

That the authors attribute this lack of evidence for their claims to the machinations of a nebulous big telecoms is indicative of a mindset more conspiratorial than sceptical… Scaremongering narratives may be more alluring than the less sensational, scientific findings, but they are not harmless. We need only look at any vaccine panic to see the cost in human life when superstition outpaces science. In an age where misinformation can perpetuate rapidly, it can be difficult to parse fact from fiction, but it’s imperative that we hone our scientific scepticism rather than succumb to baseless panics – our very wellbeing depends on it.

If you’re a journalist considering writing an “ordinary thing causes cancer!” piece it’s worth applying Occam’s Razor, which suggests that the simplest explanation is the most likely. Which is more likely: a) there’s a global conspiracy that’s willingly sacrificing thousands or even millions of lives and which has operated for decades without leaving any evidence whatsoever, or b) you’ve got it wrong?

A journalist’s job is to report what the evidence says, not to cherry-pick the evidence to support the story the journalist wants to tell.