Thursday, June 02, 2011

Nukes Prevent Baby Girls? Or How National Geographic News Overlooks Geography and Writes a Bad Article

National Geographic News has an article online entitled "Millions Fewer Girls Born Due to Nuclear Radiation?"  The article's opening paragraph paints a dark picture:
Nuclear radiation from bomb tests and power plant accidents causes slightly more boys than girls to be born, a new study suggests. While effects were seen to be regional for incidents on the ground, like Chernobyl, atmospheric blasts were found to affect birth rates on a global scale.
This all sounds pretty scary.  It is true there is a problem but the article and the study it is based on are a hack job which overlooks the real probable reason for the imbalance.  In total, the article presents obvious holes in logic, a contradictory area of study, and leaves out an obvious cultural geographical variable.

First the article cannot get what the range of study was.  At first the article states the study range was 1975 to 2007; however, in the next paragraph the article notes scientists found an increase in male births compared to female births from 1964 to 1975.  How is this possible?  Either the article is poorly written or the scientific study look at the ratio of girls and boys at 11 years old and younger to get data for 1964 to 1975 births.  This ignores variables such as immigration, emigration, and kids dying.

The second hole is mentioned in the article but still overlooked.  The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty banned all nuclear tests except those underground.  The treaty went into effect in 1963.  Any atmospheric radiation-fueled shift in baby gender should have been in full effect by 1975.  There really should not be any noticeable change therefore from 1975 to 2007.

The area of study is poorly chosen.  For a report which claims "global scale," the study area is only Europe and the United States.  Japan, a great test case which had stable boy-girl ratios until recently (well after the two atomic bombs were dropped), is left out of the study.  Also, look below at the map of nuclear detonations and the map of prevailing winds.

Map showing that most nuclear tests were in Asia or the Pacific.  Image obtained from VizWorld.

Map showing the prevailing winds.  Study only the United States and Europe for this study makes no sense.    Map obtained from Wheelock College.
Most blasts were in Central Asia and the prevailing winds would take the atmospheric blasts' fallout to other parts of Asia.  These zones would be a true testing ground for the report's theory but they are left out of the study.  Also, the Pacific blasts' fallout would be all over the Pacific Rim due to prevailing winds and ocean currents yet still no Asian nor Pacific Rim countries are studied.

The cultural reason behind an imbalance is completely missed by the study and National Geographic.  The cultural explanation came to mind when I read ""The closer the country was to Chernobyl, the stronger the effect [of more boys to girls]," and "[f]or example, more males were born relative to females in neighboring Belarus than in France, hundreds of miles away," in the article.  The article tries to blame this on the Chernobyl disaster but the real reason is probably misogyny.  The more one leaves Western Europe and goes into Eurasia the more sex selection abortions take place.  Daughters are viewed of lesser worth than sons.  This is a global trend but is worst in Asia.  In the 1980s ultrasound tests became cheap enough for the masses to use them and a rise in abortions against baby girls started.  More abortions per capita as well as targeted abortions have damaged Eastern European countries with a lack of baby girls.

Map of Abortions Worldwide.  Note an increase in Eastern Europe compared to Western Europe.  Misogyny takes care of the gender imbalance.  Map by Wm Robert Johnston.

The study and article seem poorly done.  It is more of a hack job by politics-driven scientists than a serious look at why there are more boys than girls being born.

6 comments:

cta said...

Nice rebuttal! The scientific integrity of the article should have raised all sorts of red flags with National Geographic. This kind of headline-grabbing sensationalism belongs in a supermarket tabloid!

Catholicgauze said...

Thank you, cta. It is always sad to see an organization one appreciate so much to do so poor.

A. El. said...

Interesting arguments.
But I don't think that abortion due to misogyny plays a role in countries Belarus or Ukraine: Neither do girls' parents have to pay dowries like in India nor was there a one-child-policy like in China. And apart from that sex-selective abortion was a luxury between 1964 and 1975.

Catholicgauze said...

A. El,
Thank you. While not as big as in Asia (as you correctly point out) misogyny in babies does exist in Eastern Europe. As for abortions, except for Romania where abortions were de facto banned, the Socialist Bloc ensured ready access for abortions. Some estimates (See Revolution 1989) state abortion was one of the biggest if not the biggest birth control methods.

Anonymous said...

Can you provide with evidence of misogyny-driven abortion in Eastern Europe? There are barely any social conditions: no dowries, no extreme poverty that would make raising girls harder, nothing I could think of. What began as a keen article to point out intellectual dishonesty of National, ends with a seemingly more dishonest, culturally biased, and, in fact, offensive proclamation. Yes, there is homophobia, there is anti-antisemitism, there is antiziganism. But Eastern Europe is not so much of a backwards slum as it portrayed to be.

Catholicgauze said...

Hi anonymous,
Thanks for the comment. Here are some links about the unnatural gender balance in Eastern Europe (not as bad as eastern Asia but still a crime)

http://www.rferl.org/content/georgia-sex-selection-abortion/24979979.html

http://www.espon.eu/main/Menu_Publications/Menu_MapsOfTheMonth/map1301.html