Sunday 7 October 2012

Scientific Literacy and Misinformation

Some of the most commonly peddled scientific misconceptions are related to the development of the human embryo and foetus. The anti-abortion groups love to show shocking photos of incredibly baby-like embryos and foetuses in an attempt to persuade women not to seek abortions. Women are all capable of making a decision that is best for them and their families (however that is defined), and they need to have accurate, unbiased information to do so.

I only read the Sunday Torygraph because it was being given out free as Paul did the Royal Parks Foundation half marathon today. I really wish I hadn't. It's unscientific and elitist at the best of times, but this was downright misogyny.

The image of the 12-week foetus is probably about half the size of the image of the 23-week foetus. This is way too big. At 12 weeks gestation the foetus is about 2 inches long. At 24 weeks it reaches 12 inches long. Even accounting for allometric growth of the head, the scale of the three images is misleading, no doubt to make it appear that lowering the abortion limit from 24 to 12 weeks is no big deal.

I also think they've got it wrong in terms of development. I think that 12-week foetus is actually much older. Compare it with this image of a 12-week foetus from the Science Photo Library:

I'm never going to stop newspapers (though they are not the trustworthy media organisations they may have once been) from publishing bad science and misogynistic misinformation. I'll never stop the anti-abortion campaigners from grossly over-estimating foetal development in a callous ploy to shame women into continuing with unwanted pregnancies. And don't even get me started on what a prime example of Cockney rhyming slang Jeremy Hunt is. Everything I have to say about him is an anguished sweary scream, which doesn't translate well to text.

But I can at least educate my own students, in the hope that 100 young people every year learn that pictures like the ones in the Torygraph are utter bollocks.


  1. The Government claim to just be keeping up with Medicine. Intensive care can keep a foetus alive at 20 weeks, but does that mean there'll be doctors going "so you can't commit to a baby? Okay, it's been 20 weeks, so we'll deliver it now, keep it in intensive care until 9 months and then adopt it out"? No, they won't. These medical milestones are irrelevant to the deadline for an abortion, but for the convenient excuse they offer politicians to further restrict women's reproductive autonomy. Every time such an advancement is announced, coathanger abortionists rub their hands with glee in the knowledge that it won't be more than a week before Parliament tries to further restrict safe abortion.

    I shall have to talk Facebook into dumping a load of wire hangers outside Downing Street.

  2. I think Abortion Rights did a coathanger dump a few weeks ago, but I'm writing from the phone so it's difficult to check that.

    It's never about the actual procedure, or indeed about preserving life. It is, as you say, always about removing autonomy from women. Barefoot and pregnant is a Tory ideal...

    1. Meanwhile this is cool and definitely something to show about in the run-up to the 20th.


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