Wh(Y) Science and the Media Don’t Mi(X)

Let me tell you a secret. Science is ruining your life. It’s ruining your friendships; it’s ruining your relationships; and it’s ruining whatever potentially fruitful conversation you could be having tonight. Why? Because we, as humans, as Americans, are all retarded and will always allow science to speak for us. How many times have you been engaged in a civil conversation when someone drops that F bomb? FACT. Fact is, studies say, science has prooooooooven…Science has proven shit and you’d know that if you stopped reading the news.

Allow us to lead you into a foray of the Modern Jackass in practice: CBS News and its story, “Pill Users Choose ‘Wrong’ Sex Partners.” Granted, Les “Gimme Your Fingernails” Moonvest and friends, cover their bases with the adroit location of quotation marks, but the salacious intent of the headline is clear – Yo, progressive chicks, watch out with that oral contraception because you’re f’ing up God’s plans for your womb room.

The article quotes a study that says women who are not on the pill overwhelmingly choose partners whose MHC, the part of the genome responsible for immunofunction, are different from theirs based on olfaction, or the smell of sweat. This genetic diversity is biologically advantageous since it allegedly allows for a stronger immune system among offspring since genetically similar MHC sections could mean weaker immunological responses to a panoply of antigens. Women on the pill, however, on average prefer the sweaty smell of opposite sex partners whose MHC sections are genetically similar to their own, making them biologically disadvantaged to create offspring with a strong defense against a wide array of diseases, or in the absolute language of CBS News, “wrong” for each other.

This hypothesis was first proven by Swiss biologist Claus Wedekind in 1995 and was later supported by an experiment in 2005 and again, presumably, in 2008 by the experiment cited by CBS News. In each experiment, women smelled dirty t-shirts from a group of men and selected which they “prefer.” Researchers repeated the experiment after the women began taking oral contraceptives, and the t-shirts “preferred” by the women reportedly changed. All that is fine and in support of the conclusion that oral contraception may, in some cases, change a woman’s olfactory preference for a partner whose MHC is similar to their own. Let’s not forget we are equating sexual preference and intimacy here with not only the smell of t-shirts but also a sequence of nucleotides.

The problem arises when the media takes such conclusions and ascribes moralist values to them. When CBS News simplifies Wederkind’s experiment and later iterations of it, it provides ammunition to religious zealots, political groups and ignorant interlocutors at the bar of your choice to advocate uninformed opinions. Nowhere in Wederkind’s research does he label the preference for a particular t-shirt by a woman on the pill as “wrong.” MHC may affect mate choice, he argues, and oral contraceptives may interfere with this. That’s it. There are no moral absolutes. In the hands of the media, however, science is weaponized and conclusions become facts in an arsenal well stocked for the culture wars. It’s an unfortunate truth in our current social, political and cultural situation. Modern Jackasses abound, and that’s a fact.

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