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What are We to Make of the Whole Akin and Mourdock Kerfuffle?

October 26, 2012

by PJK

What are we to make of the whole Akins and Mourdock kerfuffle?

I do not mean the discussion over what a legitimate rape might be, or the likelihood of pregnancy resulting from rape, nor the friendly banter between Republican and Democratic operatives about how this will play out in the general elections. Rather I mean what does it all say about the United States in the early twenty-first century?

The recent Mourdock comment (that a pregnancy resulting from rape was an act of God) meshes nicely with the earlier Akin statement (that pregnancy cannot happen in a real rape). They are similar in what they reveal about the thinking in certain political circles. They differ in that Murdoch’s can be plausibly be dismissed as either misinterpretation or stupidity (depending on whom you wish to blame), whereas Akin’s was clothed in a mantle of scientific “truthiness”.

Todd Akin, despite calls from this own party to do so, has declined to withdraw from the race; instead he has launched a ‘forgiveness campaign’ to mollify the voters. It does not appear to be going well- shunned by his own party, his lead in the polls has withered, which is perceived by those ‘in the know’ a gain for the Democrats in the fight to control the Senate.

None of this is important. None of it is news. Todd Akin’s little lapsus linguae is nothing but a sort of political ‘Freudian slip’, revealing what is in the minds of so many in the state and national capitols.

Akins’ claim that rape does not result in pregnancy is the sort of medical learning that has been kicking around for a while. The basis for his claim appears to be decades old writings by John Willke, in which the claim that rape does not result in pregnancy was probably first popularized ( ). Willke is an MD- a medical doctor, a man of science- so his claims cannot be dismissed lightly. That rape is a physical and emotional ordeal is something we can take as axiomatic- the evidence for this is well documented in a number of studies. That trauma can have an effect on a wide range of the body’s processes is also well documented. So when Willke offers up the notion that “assault rape pregnancies are extremely rare” because .the “emotional trauma that can be experienced” will “radically upset her [the rape victim] possibility” of pregnancy, there may be some credence to it.

It is a plausible hypothesis.

A plausible hypothesis for which Willke offers not a jot, not an iota, not a bit of evidence, either from his own research or that of others. What he does offer can most charitably be styled as back-of-the-envelope estimates, full of ‘we-don’t-know-the-reality-but-let’s-use-this-figure-and-divide-by-this-number’ in a cascading process that finally yields the magical number of 0.

It is not unlike that game you can play with a calculator: key in any number, and keep hitting the square root button. Eventually, all numbers get to 1. Like magic.

Testing such a hypothesis would present challenges. How could it be done scientifically? Recruit women for a study, and then randomly assign them to “do not rape” and “to be raped” groups?

In life, women find themselves randomly assigned to these groups; thousands of women are raped in the United States each year. An epidemiologically study, the sort that medical science has used for centuries, would reveal any connection between rape and pregnancy. This study has been done and was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology ( ). The study looked at the question over a three period and found that “rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency.”

That real science could be so easily trumped by junk is the great mystery of the American political system. That Todd Akins and his ilk can sit on the House Committee for Science, Space and Technology, and be responsible for taking the scientific work of the bests minds of our age and turning it into national policy is beyond bizarre.

It’s puzzling that a nation which prides itself on its past achievements in science and technology can allow its political discourse to be dominated by these “I-know-nothing”-ists, who deny and defy any science which stands in the way of corporations’ profits.

Perhaps to ask the question is answer it. By all appearances, the ruling strata no longer has the confidence it once did in their ability to embrace science and progress and turn it productivity and profits. Lacking that confidence, they turn from science, preferring the intellectual darkness.

All at once, the appalling state of science education in the United States begins to make sense. While it puts at risk any dynamic economy we would hope to have, their preference is to promulgate ignorance. This is how they keep their hammerlock on power.

That leaves us are at their mercy, wondering what is to be done.

The answer may be a simple one.

Fight the power.

Read a book.

(Now where did I leave that copy of Origin of Species…?)

Peter Krala can often be seen reading while riding the train to work.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 31, 2013 11:28 am

    What are We to Make of the Whole Akin and Mourdock Kerfuffle? | FTS

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