Phthalates phfalse phalarm?

Is there really a taint shrinkage crisis caused by phthalates? Trevor Butterworth of STATS has written to reassure us there isn’t, and provides a link to an article on the STATS website:
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal launched a carefully-crafted attack on phthalates, a family of colorless oil-like substances that prolong the scent of perfume, make nail polish flexible, and prevent children’s toys from cracking under the pressure of being chewed among other uses. This follows on an activist-driven campaign over the past year to have the chemicals banned in the U.S (see STATS earlier article “A Health Care that Stinks” for more background).

Without directly endorsing the studies claiming a link between phthalates and male genital deformation, the WSJ suggested that we should be nervous: Phthalates are everywhere, and male infertility is on the rise. Stop the production and distribution of materials using phthalates, so goes the reasoning.

Only there’s a problem: the studies cited in the article are far less conclusive than the paper suggests. The WSJ cites two human studies that conclude there is a link, describing their experiments in detail. But it buries the mention of two studies that failed to find a link among comments doubting their validity, and, at the same time, avoids spending any time describing the studies’ methodologies. The result is a skewed picture of a controversial topic that guides the public towards the belief that most of the evidence points toward a causal relationship, namely, that phthalates are a threat to male reproductive health.
Well, that’s a relief. Or is it? That very article concedes, "the boys had a smaller anogenital index, which is a measure of the distance from the anus to the scrotum, adjusted for weight," but claims (rather astonishingly) this doesn’t matter as "The baby boys were not “demasculinized” in any way".

I suspect the author of that article, Rebecca Goldin, being a woman does not understand that to have a tiny taint is in and of itself demasuculinizing. And while I’m sure some women are indifferent (Rebecca Goldin obviously among them) to a man’s taint, for many women size does matter, and a small percentage of women can only be satisfied by men with enormous taints.

So the while there may not be a full blown taint crisis, there is still much to be concerned about, and still many unanswered questions. I am, however, less alarmed now than I was, thanks to the nice people at STATS.


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