Friday, June 3, 2011

Being Attracted to the Wrong Mate?

An article entitled The Tricky Chemistry of Attraction recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

The thesis of the article is that taking birth control pills may lead one to choose the wrong romantic partner which in turn may result in genetically inferior children and also lead to infidelity.

The points made in the article, ran something like this:
  • Women’s attraction to men is influenced by chemical factors that men give off.  Women tend to prefer scents of men with different immune system genes than their own (which is good for their offspring).
  • Ovulation affects men’s and women’s partner preferences.
  • Women on the pill no longer desire the “masculine” and genetically favorable men they would normally be attracted to during ovulation.  Once they come off the pill women may no longer be as interested in the “less-masculine” men that they chose while being on the pill and as a result may have affairs.
  • Women who share immune system genes with their partner are less sexually responsive to their partner.
  • Men smelling women’s T-shirts were less attracted to women on birth control pills.
  • Male lemurs were less attracted to female lemurs after the female lemurs were injected with a long acting contraceptive.

This article provides a strained extrapolation of results from disparate studies (in different species) to weave a thesis: using birth control pills might mess up your romantic life, your family life and your children

How about presenting some evidence which directly bears on the speculation?  Do women who formed a relationship with their future partner while they were taking birth control pills tend to have less successful marriages, more sickly children, and more frequent extramarital affairs than, say, women using non-hormonal forms of contraception or no contraception at all?  One could also ask whether the women on birth control pills have fewer unwanted pregnancies.

Part of being a scientist is coming up with cogent hypotheses based on a critical analysis of the existing data; so all hypotheses are not equally good.  But even a well reasoned hypothesis, until it is tested, is just an untested hypothesis.  This article does not report tests of, what one may generously term, the speculative hypothesis presented in the article.  Untested hypotheses are rarely a good basis for making important decisions.

While I don’t object to news publications reporting some basic science studies and then reasonably speculating on their possible significance, I think that at a minimum one should report if there is any evidence that supports (or contradicts) these speculations. 

One has to wonder whether there is a non-science based agenda behind this article.  I don't know whether or not there was an agenda to promote premarital abstinence or to discourage use of contraception, but using untested speculative hypotheses as arguments for such positions is pseudo-science.

No comments:

Post a Comment