Wednesday, August 13

:: You're Going to Love This One...

From the Guardian.  They seem to enjoy publishing bad science, which is then taken apart by their fabulous columnist Ben Goldacre in his "Bad Science" column.  They've got a system; it works for them.

Contraceptive pill 'can lead women to choose wrong partner'

Pill thought to disrupt instinctive mechanism that brings together people with complementary genes and immune systems

Taking the contraceptive pill can lead a woman to choose the "wrong" partner, the findings of a study published today suggest.

The pill is thought to disrupt an instinctive mechanism that brings people with complementary genes and immune systems together.  By passing on a wide-ranging set of immune system genes, they increase their chances of having a healthy child that is not vulnerable to infection.  Couples with different genes are also less likely to experience fertility problems or miscarriages.

Experts believe women are naturally attracted to men with immune system genes that differ their own because of their smell.  The major histocompatability complex (MHC) cluster of genes, which helps build proteins involved in the body's immune response, also influences smell signals called pheromones.  Although pheromones may be almost unnoticeable at a conscious level, they can exert a potent effect.

A man's pheromonal odour is partly determined by his MHC. From a woman's point of view, a man with an alluring smell is also likely to have suitable immune system genes.  The new research provides evidence that the contraceptive pill can upset this process.

Researchers asked 100 women to sniff six male body odour samples from 97 volunteers and say which they preferred, with tests carried out both before and after the women had started taking the pill.

"The results showed that the preferences of women who began using the contraceptive pill shifted towards men with genetically similar odours," the University of Liverpool's Dr Craig Roberts, who led the study, said.

"Not only could MHC similarity in couples lead to fertility problems, it could also ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pill, as odour perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners."

Being on the pill simulates a state of pregnancy, which may reverse a woman's reaction to male odours.  Finding particular men sexually attractive is not so important once a woman is expecting a child.
In other words, the researchers used grant money to put on a speed dating event, albeit one that involved a lot of sniffing.  The whole scene sounds very "dog park" to me.  Forgive me for suggesting that the "six male body odour samples" matched their own?  I find it very easy to picture an Austin Powers-like researcher, chest rug resplendent beneath his paisley lab coat, waving a vial in front of a female text subject and saying, "does this make you horny, baby?" 

Why do I impugn the researchers' motives?  Because, like the infamous "girls instinctively prefer pink because we were bred to forage for fruit" study (um, is all fruit pink?), this one fails on a (cough) conceptual level.  The point, generally, of using the pill is so that one can copulate without conceiving.  So whether you are likely or not to zero in on the best genetic material while on the pill is irrelevant.  

In addition, I generally dismiss out of hand any report that states a social construction as scientific fact.  "Finding particular men sexually attractive is not so important once a woman is expecting a child," apparently. Says who? Why? Because by then its too late to dump him? Because pregnant women never want sex? Because the only thing a pregnant woman is supposed to be thinking about is how to be the very best baby-carrier she possibly can be? Or is it because all sex is meant to be procreative sex, so if the possibility of conceiving a new pregnancy is mooted, sex is irrelevant (and unnatural)?

Further, the study ignores the potency of confounding factors.  Just off the top of my head, they have not ruled out:
:: female fails to identify genetically-appropriate male due to blocking signals emanating from male's Nintendo X-Box

:: female seduced by false positives generated by male's liberal use of Axe Body Spray for Men

:: female's ability to correctly identify genetically-appropriate signals is compromised by two pints of lager and Springsteen's "Born to be Wild" ...


Matt said...

LOL - I love this, maybe we can start some events like this !!!

Speed Dating Manchester
Speed Dating Liverpool
Speed Dating Leeds
Speed Dating Chester
Speed Dating Wilmslow

Anonymous said...

Because, like the infamous "girls instinctively prefer pink because we were bred to forage for fruit" study (um, is all fruit pink?)

This is especially suspect, considering pink used to be the stereotypically male color.

Pretty much any studies about sexual attraction or differences between the sexes are total crapola.

Nina Miller said...

That stupid fruit study was yet another addition to the "let's make up a story about our origins to justify the social structure of my preference," a.k.a. evolutionary psychology. Why more scientists don't take a hard line and drive these quacks out of business I have no idea. Lazy bastards.

Julia Riber Pitt said...

My god, that's the lamest "study" I've ever heard! Some people have way too much time on their hands...