Thursday, June 18, 2009

Another myth that goes down easy?

BY NOW MANY OF YOU probably have heard about this study, if only because it's been a headline item on both AOL and Yahoo News. I mention it here not to confirm my growing reputation as a misogynist, but rather in the pursuit of what we all claim to want: the truth. Or at least a step in that direction.

In summary: The Aussies did a study of 100 people who believed, or claimed to
believe, that their drinks had been spiked. All were admitted to hospitals. Nine out of 10 were women, most under age 25. In not one casenot a single casedid blood work/toxicological studies reveal the presence of any foreign substance other than the alcohol itself.

Now I grant you, it's a small study...and it took place in Australia, where they've all gone a little bit troppo. But...not one? Besides, the findings tally with the results of a similar small study back in 2006 (which was quickly denounced by feminist groups).

What to conclude from this? Most obviously, that the risk
of having your drink spiked (dramatized in a TV movie a few years back about Max Factor heir Andrew Luster, who, nice guy that he was, liked to dose new female acquaintances with GHB in order to take them home and have anal sex with them, on video) has been, shall we say, overstated. As was almost surely the case, before it, with date rape, military rape, America's "rape culture" as a whole, domestic violence (here are some stats from the Bureau of Justice Statistics; check the surprisingly low overall incidence rate, and the overall decline in incidence) and other cause celebres.

Which is really the point. Make no mistake, all of these issues deserve our full attention; this is clear even in the data presented by groups who would seem to have a horse in the race. It's just that we do ourselves (and society as a whole) no favors by wildly hyping the actual threat. In fairness, I don't think the average woman-on-the-street (or in-a-bar) subscribes to such alarmism. It's mostly (so-called) women's-rights advocates who feel the need to make their causes sound as big, as terrifying, as possible. We saw this same phenomenon with the AIDS activists (and their media allies) who tried to convince America that "AIDS is moving into the mainstream! Now no one is safe!" It was nonsense then, and it's nonsense now. Quick personal story: In September 1993 American Legion published my article, "AIDS: Undue Alarm
?"* To research the piece, instead of going through the prescribed channels (i.e. the CDC press office), I got hold of a CDC directory and started dialing extensions in the building itself. Eventually I managed to compile a series of firsthand interviews with some of the top people on the CDC crisis-response teamthe very MDs and scientists whose names were often linked in the media with research "proving" that AIDS had gone mainstream. They flatly rejected any such notion. But, I pressed, what about all that pessimism I kept hearing nightly from Dan, Peter and Tom? Well, they explained—and I always sensed a wry philosophical smile forming on the other end of the lineyou had to understand, there was a certain way the CDC had to "play" the data for political reasons. My top-level sources strongly implied that their work had been cherry-picked and pounded into politically correct format for public consumption. I found this remarkable and thought my story would make major waves. It didn't, partly because Legion is perceived as a fringe publication and is off the media radar, and partly, again, because other journalists didn't want to risk the wrath of the many AIDS interest groups (not to mention Oprah) for covering the crisis in anything but "sympathetic" terms.

Getting back to the issue at hand, this doesn't mean that women should leave their drinks unattended, any more than it means that women should feel free to walk through the darkest stretches of Central Park at 3 a.m. wearing nothing but a thong**. It just means that the number of big bad wolves out there likely is exceeded by the number of people willing to cry wolf in furtherance of their own selfish aims.

* The question mark was, I suppose, a concession to the mood at the time. Just as during the sunny Reagan '80s much of the American mainstream ignored AIDS, by the early 1990s the disease had become such a litmus test of national compassion that it was highly impolitic to take a stance that questioned the massive amounts of funding then being pumped into the crisis. If you were at all skeptical of the way the epidemic was being characterized, you were "homophobic." In truth, there shouldn't have been a question mark in the title.
The alarmwhich is to say, the widespread panic being whipped up among the vast percentage of Americans who were no more at risk of catching AIDS than of catching Ebolawas indeed undue.
** Yes, I know: Rape is a crime of violence, not lust. Still, I somehow have to believe that the thong would magnify the danger.


Dimension Skipper said...

I don't know, my eyes must be going, but I don't see any titillations in that bottom picture at all...


As for the AIDS hype perhaps a lot of folks and organizations saw the whole thing as a good way to try to discourage risky sexual behavior either before people start indulging in such or nipping it in the bud (butt?) as early as possible?

Maybe what I'm asking is... Is it possible that sometimes a good old-fashioned scare tactic can be seen as a good thing? At least on some level?

I'm not saying it is, only asking the question. I think that's probably how a lot of folks might see it, but as I am prone to disclaiming I could be wrong.

(Note that I'm also assuming that needle sharing drug addicts would be much less the focus of such a scare tactic, organizationally orchestrated or not, than just simply young folks, gay or straight, pondering becoming sexually active, especially with possible promiscuous proclivities.)

Steve Salerno said...

DS, I don't think there's any question--in the larger sense--that "scare tactics" can sometimes serve a useful purpose. I just don't think that's the media's job. Because--again--once we give the media license to openly root for this or that...who gets to make those calls? It's like I've often said on the blog, I was as staunch an Obama man as there was, by the end of the campaign season--but I thought the way the media generally swooned over him was indefensible. The media simply can't pick sides, even when life and death are at stake.

roger o'keefe said...

Though I still can't figure you, Steve, I'm glad to see you returning to the kinds of topics that attracted your "base" to you in the first place. ;)

There has been a war on men in this society for decades now. Every issue that comes to the fore that involves gender in any way is covered from a female friendly perspective. If laws are passed as a result, those laws have favored women's interests. I'm not so arrogant and out of touch to argue that men have no privileges left at all, but women simply have to make up their mind, do they want to be equal or do they want special treatment? You can't have it both ways.

Dimension Skipper said...

"I just don't think that's the media's job."

Oh, I certainly agree with you there at least as far as most mainstream widely respected media sources. I was just being a little more general.

I'm pretty sure I get your overall drift.

Noadi said...

Hey, for once you have a post about women that I agree with you about.

Women have been made terrified of having their drinks spiked. We're told starting in college orientation if not sooner to never leave drinks unattended or accept drinks handed to us by anyone but the bartender or waitress. It's not surprise that women are more likely to think their drink has been spiked and rush to the hospital when we're given this overhyped message all the time.

Neuroskeptic said...

The alarm—which is to say, the widespread panic being whipped up among the vast percentage of Americans who were no more at risk of catching AIDS than of catching Ebola—was indeed undue.

Oh, surely not. The risk may have been (and remains) relatively small but it's not zero.

Do you have a copy of your American Legion article?

Anonymous said...

Why would the Clinton Administration and the Democrat-controlled congress and senate put pressure on the CDC to overstate the risk of heterosexual AIDS? I could (possibly) understand that happening in 1995 after Newt and the Moral Majority boys took over - was the gay (political) community exerting pressure so they wouldn't get picked on?

If the "rape culture" myth gets knocked down to size, and the actual numbers of legitimate rapes - as opposed to consensual sex later regretted - is the point of focus, won't that hurt the pro-choice argument? The second point for the pro-abortion crowd - after "it's a woman's right" is "what about cases of rape?". But the truth is, the vast majority of abortions are all due to issues of inconvenience and less than 1% are about rape.

(Hint: take the total number of rapes among fertile females and assume a very generous 4% conception ratio, and compare that to total abortions performed.)

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 3:14: This gets complicated, but I commend you to two (very different) sources for further reading: And the Band Played On by the late (gay) journalist Randy Shilts, and Bias, by deposed CBS newsman Bernie Goldberg, who is now a mainstay at FOX. In brief, AIDS activists realized that Mr. Mainstream American would not care about HIV unless he thought his life was at risk; if the disease remained confined primarily to risk groups that could be "blamed" in some way for inviting this new scourge (i.e. through anal sex, prostitution and/or IV drug abuse), then the disease and its sufferers could be marginalized. However, if mainstream Americans could be led to believe that AIDS might devastate them too, it would be a different story; the public outcry would result in a massive influx in funding for AIDS research, from which, of course, the original risk groups also would benefit.

This line of reasoning--"It's everyone's disease now!"--became the authorized story line once the "compassionate" liberal media got involved. And once Reagan and Bush (the first one) yielded to Clinton, the liberal story line on AIDS became the only acceptable one, in polite circles.