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Is Circumcision Choice credible?


Published: June 10, 2023

Revised: March 22, 2024


Some of our detractors have questioned why anyone should trust the information on this website. One intactivist tweeted, "No one, not even genital-cutting doctors, takes the 'Circumcision Choice' website seriously, for obvious reasons." [1] Another asked us, "You debunked all this science years ago? Where is your paper refuting it? Did you have others peer review your work? Did you publish in any scientific journals?" [2]


At the outset one should note that these objections don't actually disprove any content. It's easier for lazy intactivists to attack the messenger than consider the information.


Nevertheless, those are fair questions. Anyone can create a website, and there is plenty of misinformation on the internet. So what are our scholarly credentials? Why should the public trust Circumcision Choice? What makes this website a reliable source of information?



Medical credentials

The international team behind the Circumcision Choice website includes physicians, nurses, parents, and others. Each of our physicians has at least twenty years of practice.


That said, a person doesn't need to be an expert in order to research and analyze information related to a particular subject. One only needs eyes to read and a brain to comprehend and analyze. An argument should be judged based its merits, not its author(s).


Paradoxically our detractors want to have it both ways. They demand that anyone who promotes or defends circumcision provide his educational background and medical credentials to prove that he's qualified to opine on the topic. Yet they flippantly reject the opinions of physicians and medical organizations who defend circumcision, and they downplay or dismiss studies by PhD holders that show the benefits of the procedure.


Rejecting an argument because the presenter lacks expertise is a form of the Appeal to Authority, a logical fallacy. While medical or scientific expertise can be quite helpful in supporting a claim, the presence or absence of an expert opinion doesn't determine if a claim is true or false.


There's an element of hypocrisy in play. Our adversaries promote anti-circumcision films like American Circumcision, An Elephant in the Hospital, and Love and Circumcision: an American Love Story. Among the three producers - Brendon Marotta, Ryan McAllister, and Eric Clopper - not one of them had a college degree in medicine, psychology, sexuality, history, religion, or law. [3] Intactivists who enthusiastically cite these anti-circumcision documentaries cannot turn around and discredit an article on the mere pretext that the author may not have an advanced degree.



Peer review

Our team reviews drafts and makes corrections before and sometimes shortly after publication. On certain topics we've sought advice from experts, including other medical professionals, mental health professionals, and ritual circumcision specialists.


It's true that our articles aren't published in science or medical journals. Certainly publication provides several benefits. Published articles receive widespread attention and prestige. This respect is based on the promise by most science and medical journals that each submission is scrutinized via a peer review process.


"In theory, this means other highly educated researchers in the same field comb the article for flaws and make recommendations for changes to improve the article or correct errors," wrote Melanie Lindwall Schaab, a certified family nurse practitioner.


"In reality, research has shown that peer review fails to do its job. In one study, even when told they were part of a study and that they might find something 'off' about an article submitted for publication, peer reviewers on average only caught one of eight 'major' errors intentionally added to the paper and only 30% recommended rejecting the paper for publication. Peer review also has the tendency to reject unpopular ideas, making peer review switch from useless to actively harmful in a shockingly high proportion of cases." [4][5]

Fake and scandalous studies

Several shocking and embarrassing examples show the poor to nonexistent level of peer review, even among some respected publications. For example, a journalist created an absurd and baseless study claiming that people can lose weight by consuming chocolate. Two weeks after submission the study was published in the International Archives of Medicine, despite the editor's claim that "all studies submitted to the journal are reviewed in a rigorous way." The study was picked up by several mainstream media, including "the Daily Star, the Irish Examiner, Cosmopolitan’s German website, the Times of India, both the German and Indian versions of the Huffington Post, and even television news in Texas and an Australian morning talk show." It was reported in the June 2015 edition of Shape and had been scheduled for the September edition of Men's Health. [6]



In 2017 a neuroscientist penned a study about "midi-chlorians,' a fictional microscopic life form first mentioned in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The "nonsensical piece of research [was] dotted with massive factual errors, plagiarism, and Star Wars references ... in a blog post for Discovery magazine." The authors' names - Dr. Lucas McGeorge and Dr. Annette Kin - should have been a dead giveaway. Nevertheless the hoax was published in the International Journal of Molecular Biology: Open Access, Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and the American Research Journal of Biosciences. The authors declined to pay a $350 fee requested by the American Journal of Medical and Biological Research. [7]


Three days after promising a peer review process, the Urology & Nephrology Open Access Journal published a study about a fictional disease inspired by the American TV sitcom Seinfeld, complete with several references to the show. [8][9] Other science journals have been fooled into publishing fake studies about such clearly nonsensical topics as "everyday sexism in potatoes" and "the proliferation of rape culture at dog parks," [10] as well as images of rats with extremely large genitalia. [11] In 2015 a fake scientist was accepted for editorial positions on the boards of 48 academic journals. [12]


Medical researchers at Harvard University were embroiled in two academic scandals at the beginning of 2024, both involving falsified data. A science blogger exposed several examples of data manipulation in studies conducted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. [13] Sholto David documented that "researchers at the cancer institute manipulated images and data. David suggested Adobe Photoshop was used to copy and paste images in some of the papers." Consequently Dana-Farber retracted six studies and corrected 31 others. [14] Meanwhile Khalid Shah, a top brain surgeon at Harvard Medical School, was accused of falsifying data and committing plagiarism in 21 papers published over a 22-year period. Shah, the vice chair of research in the department of neurosurgery, allegedly "presented images from other scientists' research as his own original experimental data." [15] Other research at major universities may have involved fake or manipulated data about academic achievement (Stanford.) [16]


In an ironic development, a prominent behavioral scientist - also affiliated with Harvard - who wrote a study on how to elicit honest behavior, has been accused of fabricating data in several studies dating back more than a decade. "The scholar, Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School, has been a co-author of dozens of papers in peer-reviewed journals on such topics as how rituals like silently counting to 10 before deciding what to eat can increase the likelihood of choosing healthier food, and how networking can make professionals feel dirty." [17]



Flawed studies

We have reported on circumcision studies of very low quality that were published in science and medical journals. Kristen O'Hara's study, "Sex as Nature Intended it," appeared in BJU International in 1999. [18] O'Hara violated standard survey methodology throughout. The survey was conducted over a period of several years. Respondents were recruited via an ad placed in an anti-circumcision newsletter. Survey questions featured prejudicial terms and were structured to elicit responses favoring uncircumcised sex. Some questions were added or reworded during the survey period. [19]


"The intromission function of the foreskin," a 2002 study by Donald Taves, was published in Medical Hypotheses. [20] Taves wanted to compare the force that a circumcised man and an uncircumcised man would use to enter a partner's vagina. He cut a quarter-size hole in the bottom of a Styrofoam cup to simulate a vaginal opening. Taves penetrated the hole with his erect penis - alternately with his glans exposed and with his foreskin covering the glans. In other words, the study consisted of the researcher having sex with a Styrofoam cup. [21]

In 2017 New Male Studies published "Circumcision Grief" by Lindsay Watson and Tom Golden. [22] The researchers weren't motivated by an objective scientific curiosity, but by their own visceral revulsion to circumcision. Survey participants were recruited from a website that promotes the violent hatred of women. The recruitment ad gave leading statements that showed readers the types of responses the researchers were seeking. [23]


We don't report these stories to disparage legitimate peer review or the scientific method. Rather, these examples show that publication in a scholarly journal is no guarantee that a paper has been subjected to a high quality peer review process. Unfortunately the review process that many science journals promise is either inadequate or nonexistent. Consequently publication is neither sufficient nor necessary to validate an article or study.



Publication costs

While an appearance in a respected journal can provide the benefit of widespread exposure, publication comes with some costs. First and foremost is the prohibitive financial cost, which can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Second is the time delay from submission to publication, which can take weeks to months. By contrast we can publish articles on this platform at a moment's notice, and we pay a reasonable cost to maintain this website. This platform also allows us to embed photos, videos, and hyperlinks - all of which can enhance article appearance and user experience.


One of the most significant benefits of self-publication is that we can add, edit, correct, and update each of our articles. We can include hyperlinks back to a previous Circumcision Choice article, and for older articles, we can add links to newer posts. The ability to update an article is quite useful when a new event happens or a new study is published. By contrast, an article published in a journal can be difficult or impossible to revise.



Respect

The Circumcision Choice team never asks readers to trust us. On the contrary, we bring the receipts. We make it easy for visitors to determine that the information we provide is true, accurate, and in context. Most articles posted on this website have footnotes that cite statement sources. A footnote contains the name(s) of the author(s), title, publisher or platform, and publication date. Most of our footnotes and all of our articles include hyperlinks directly to the source material. On rare occasions where we err, we acknowledge and correct our mistakes. [24][25]


Our articles include citations of and links to papers promoted by intactivists and even anti-circumcision websites. Most intactivist websites are afraid to give any attention to Circumcision Choice. We, on the other hand, aren't afraid of sources that disagree with us. We trust our visitors to read our articles, read intactivist posts, and reach their own conclusions.


Several of our articles have been cited in science and medical journals. [26]-[29] A British author cited our article in his 2022 book about the psychology of circumcision. [30] A rabbi cited information he learned from our article during an informal debate on a TV news program. [31] Even intactivists have grudgingly offered some respect. Ulf Dunkel, the German creator of the IntactiWiki website, admitted that our article "debunked the flaws and bias of O'Hara's study which is the basis of this book ['Sex as Nature Intended It']." [32] Tim Hammond, founder of several anti-circumcision organizations including NOHARMM, quoted our article to support his conclusion on the question of whether California had reinstated Medicaid coverage for circumcision. [33]



[1] Bill Cooney; tweet; October 28, 2019

[2] Ryan Shuck tweet; April 3, 2023

[3] Eric Clopper graduated from Georgetown law school four years after his 2018 performance.

[4] Melanie Lindwall Schaab; "Most science is false"; Facebook post; April 28, 2016

[5] William A. Wilson; "Scientific Regress"; First Things; May 2016. “Looking at sixty-seven recent drug discovery projects based on preclinical cancer biology research, they found that in more than 75 percent of cases the published data did not match up with their in-house attempts to replicate. These were not studies published in fly-by-night oncology journals, but blockbuster research featured in Science, Nature, Cell, and the like.”

[8] Andrew Moseman; "Journal Trolled With Study About a Fake Disease From Seinfeld"; Popular Mechanics; April 27, 2017

[9] "Hello...Newman: Yet another sting pranks a predatory journal, Seinfeld-style"; Retraction Watch; April 6, 2017. "'I wrote [the paper] as “Dr. Martin van Nostrand,” Kramer’s physician alter ego, and coauthored by Jay Reimenschneider (Kramer’s friend who eats horse meat) and Leonard Nicodemo (another of Kramer’s friends, who once had gout)…' McCool - founder of Precision Scientific Editing - included fake references to papers written by 'Costanza GL,' created a fake affiliation (of course, the Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute).

[12] Piotr Sorokowski et al; "Predatory journals recruit fake editor"; Nature; March 23, 2017. "We conceived a sting operation and submitted a fake application for an editor position to 360 journals, a mix of legitimate titles and suspected predators. Forty-eight titles accepted.... In 2015, we created a profile of a fictitious scientist named Anna O. Szust and applied on her behalf to the editorial boards of 360 journals. Oszust is the Polish word for 'a fraud'. We gave her fake scientific degrees and credited her with spoof book chapters... Szust's 'work' had never been indexed in the Web of Science or Scopus databases, nor did she have a single citation in any literature database. Her CV listed no articles in academic journals or any experience as a reviewer, much less an editor. The books and chapters on her CV did not exist and could not be found through any search engine. Even the publishing houses were fake...Four titles immediately appointed Szust editor-in-chief. No JCR journal accepted Szust. By comparison, 40 predatory and 8 DOAJ journals appointed her as an editor... Szust was almost never questioned about her experience. No one made any attempt to contact her university or institute."

[13] Sholto David; "Dana-Farbercations at Harvard University"; For Better Science; January 2, 2024

[15] Veronica H. Paulus and Akshaya Ravi; "Top Harvard Medical School Neuroscientist Accused of Research Misconduct"; Harvard Crimson; February 1, 2024

[17] Noam Scheiber; "Harvard Scholar Who Studies Honesty is Accused of Fabricating Findings"; New York Times; June 24, 2023

[18] Kristen Ohara with Jeffrey O'Hara; “The effect of male circumcision on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner”; BJU International, pp 79-84; January 1999

[19] Andrew Gross; “Sex as the researcher intended it"; Circumcision Choice; September 7, 2016

[20] Donald Taves; "The Intromission Function of the Foreskin"; Med Hypotheses; 2002

[21] Andrew Gross; "The Styrofoam Vagina"; Circumcision Choice; May 15, 2018

[22] Lindsay Watson and Tom Golden; "Male Circumcision Grief: Effective and Ineffective Therapeutic Approaches"; New Male Studies; 2017

[23] Andrew Gross; "The Circumcision Grief paradox"; Circumcision Choice; June 4, 2022

[24] For example, We initially reported in our 2019 article "Blood Stained Men invade a medical office building, assault female doctor" that the protesters had fled the medical office building before police arrived. We corrected the article (and noted the correction in a footnote) after a video was brought to our attention showing the police interviewing the protesters.

[25] With his consent we added a paragraph that an anti-circumcision scholar had written in which he disputed several points in our 2021 article - The danger of extremists - that was critical of him.

[27] For example: Stephen Moreton; "Do False Beliefs Predict Increased Circumcision Satisfaction in Men?"; Advances in Sexual Medicine; April 17, 2020, footnote 14 - "Kellogg's Crusade"

[28] For example: Brian J. Morris et al; "Sex and Male Circumcision: Women's Preferences Across Different Cultures and Countries: A Systematic Review"; Sexual Medicine; April 25, 2019, footnote 42 - "Sex as the researcher intended it"

[29] A cynic may wonder why we are citing scientific journals after having questioned their reliability. The truth is that such journals continue to enjoy high respect from medical professionals and the public despite their fallibility.

[30] Jordan Osserman; "Circumcision on the Couch: The Cultural, Psychological, and Gendered Dimensions of the World's Oldest Surgery"; Bloomsbury; January 13, 2022,. "They treated the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to demand that hospitals stop performing circumcisions." - citing "How Intactivists Exploited the Coronavirus"

[31] Rav Hayim Leiter; "Male circumcision debate flares in U.S. ahead of 2020"; Daily Dose with Jeff Smith; i24News; July 8, 2019 (5:06-5:29). "All the documentation that comes out of the anti-circumcision movement claims that there are 20,000 nerve endings that are lost. It's a grossly over-exaggerated number. They took a study in 1932 and they said, one baby was studied, one square centimeter, and he said there were 212 nerve endings there. They multiplied it - and I think not correctly - and the number should be more like 1,900."

[32] Ulf Dunkel; "Sex As Nature Intended It"; IntactiWiki; updated June 8. 2021

[33] Tim Hammond; "Did California REALLY Extend Coverage for Newborn Circumcision?"; GALDEF; March 23, 2023. "At this point, it's interesting to note that even the pro-circumcision website Circumcision Choice looked into this matter and came to the same conclusion as we did in its December 22, 2022 post titled Did California resume Medicaid coverage for circumcision? They posted links to Intact America's December 8th social media posts mentioned earlier and they did their own fact checking with California DHCS. Circumcision Choice determined that 'Medi-Cal has not changed its policy regarding newborn circumcision,' stating further, 'We conclude that Medi-Cal does not cover elective newborn circumcision at this time.'"



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