Tag Archives: Estrogen Errors

Nanotechnology enables robots and human enhancement: part 1

I’m doing something a little different as I’m going to be exploring some ideas about robots and AI today and human enhancement technologies over the next day or so. I have never been particularly interested in these topics but after studying and thinking about nanotechnology I have found that I can’t ignore them since nanotech is being used to enable these, for want of a better word, innovations. I have deep reservations about these areas of research, especially human enhancement, but I imagine I would have had deep reservations about electricity had I been around in the days when it was first being commercialized.

This item, Our Metallic Reflection: Considering Future Human-android Interactions, in Science Daily is what set me off,

Everyday human interaction is not what you would call perfect, so what if there was a third party added to the mix – like a metallic version of us? In a new article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, psychologist Neal J. Roese and computer scientist Eyal Amir from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign investigate what human-android interactions may be like 50 years into the future.

As I understand the rough classifications, there are robots (machines that look like machines), androids (machines that look like and act like humans), and cyborgs (part human/part machine). By the way, my mother can be designated as a cyborg since she had her hip replacement a few years ago. It’s a pretty broad designation including people with pacemakers, joint replacements, as well as any other implanted object not native to a human body.

The rest of the Science Daily article goes on to state that by 2060 androids will be able to answer in human-like voices, answer questions and more. The scientists studying the potential interactions are trying to understand how people will react psychologically to these androids of 2060.

For an alternative discussion about robots, AI, etc. you can take a look at a project where Mary King, a collegue and fellow classmate (we completed an MA programme at De Montfort University), compares Western and Japanese responses to them.

This research project explores the theories and work of Japanese and Western scientists in the field of robotics and AI. I ask what differences exist in the approach and expectations of Japanese and Western AI scientists, and I show how these variances came about.

Because the Western media often cites Shinto as the reason for the Japanese affinity for robots, I ask what else has shaped Japan’s harmonious feelings for intelligent machines. Why is Japan eager to develop robots, and particularly humanoid ones? I also aim to discover if religion plays a role in shaping AI scientists’ research styles and perspectives. In addition, I ask how Western and Japanese scientists envision robots/AI playing a role in our lives. Finally, I enquire how the issues of roboethics and rights for robots are perceived in Japan and the West.

You can go here for more.  Amongst other gems, you’ll find this,

Since 1993 Robo-Priest has been on call 24-hours a day at Yokohama Central Cemetery. The bearded robot is programmed to perform funerary rites for several Buddhist sects, as well as for Protestants and Catholics. Meanwhile, Robo-Monk chants sutras, beats a religious drum and welcomes the faithful to Hotoku-ji, a Buddhist temple in Kakogawa city, Hyogo Prefecture. More recently, in 2005, a robot dressed in full samurai armour received blessings at a Shinto shrine on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Kiyomori, named after a famous 12th-century military general, prayed for the souls of all robots in the world before walking quietly out of Munakata Shrine.

It seems our androids are here already despite what the article in Science Daily indicates. More tomorrow.

Book launch announcement:  Susan Baxter, guest blogger here and lead author of The Estrogen Errors: Why Progesterone is Better for Women’s Health, is having a book launch tomorrow, Thursday, July 23, 2009 from 6 – 8 pm, at Strands Hair and Skin Treatment Centre, #203 – 131 Water St. (in the same complex as the kite store), Vancouver.

Guest blogger on hormones, Suzanne Somers, and Oprah

Sorry for the delay in getting this up but here at last are my guest blogger’s comments on issues about estrogen and women’s health. First, I should introduce her, Susan Baxter, PhD. is co-author with Jerilynn Prior, MD of the newly published Estrogen Errors. Now for her comments,

In believing that hormones – pills, patches, injectables, bioidentical, you-name-it – will somehow keep you young and vibrant Suzanne Somers and Oprah are part of a long and undistinguished history, one that places estrogen front and centre. Progesterone, the other natural (post-ovulatory) hormone that crucially balances out estrogen during each menstrual cycle, an afterthought, if mentioned at all.

From the synthetic estrogen DES (diethylstilbestrol) in the 1930’s to the estrogen derived from pregnant mares’ urine, Premarin, since the 1950’s, estrogen “replacement” has morphed in our collective imaginations into the fountain of youth. And where it really started was with a 1966 bestseller, Feminine Forever.

Secretly produced by drug companies eager to market their estrogen pills, written by a kindly New York gynecologist Robert Wilson (his son later admitted to the drug company connection), Feminine Forever was blatant propaganda that took America by storm. In no time at all menopause became cemented in the popular imagination as a “deficiency” disease that estrogen could cure. And during an era where midlife women, no longer beautiful or fertile, were losing any status they may have had (as the TV series Mad Men depicts), Wilson’s song was one they wanted to hear. Really, it wasn’t age or the culture treating women badly; it wasn’t economic or social, it was medical. Then, once a handful of epidemiological studies linked taking estrogen with being healthier (bearing in mind that such studies can only show correlation, not cause), millions of women began taking hormone “replacement” therapy or “HRT”.

I use quotes for “HRT”, incidentally, because – as my coauthor endocrinologist Jerilynn Prior has accurately pointed out – how can hormones at menopause be a “replacement” when all women’s hormones naturally wane at this stage of their lives. The term suggests parity with a diabetic taking insulin – except it is not.

The estrogen-is-good-for-you argument should have died, once and for all, in 2002 when the largest clinical trial in history, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) was stopped early because the women who were taking the hormones were found to be suffering from ridiculously high levels of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, blood clots and more. For those women whose perimenopause (the transition into menopause during, usually, the forties) is onerous, progesterone works for symptom relief and doesn’t cause anything dire. But no, here we are again, stuck in the inane and superficial: Oprah, Somers, Newsweek. What we are not hearing is how these women, along with everyone else, have so internalized the fallacy that a woman’s true nature is to be fertile (and with high levels of estrogen) that all else is forgotten. So we continue to argue about the what and the – when the real issue is the why. But, as the late Stephen Jay Gould once said, we believe most fervently in those facts that allow us to believe our social prejudices are true. And there is no prejudice as thoroughly engrained as that of the value of women being equal to their being young and fruitful.

That is the real story.

(My thanks to Frogheart and all the other bloggers – e.g., http://trueslant.com/womenomics/2009/06/08/did-anyone-else-think-the-newsweek-photo-of-oprah-was-mysogenistic-and-just-plain-dumb/ – and other commentators, many linked to on this blog, who have criticized the Newsweek story thoughtfully. However, as a social scientist and medical writer who has studied the subject, I continue to be appalled at our societal love affair with hormones, in general; estrogen, in particular; and our blithe disregard for the natural cycles and stages of a woman’s life.)

As I said in Part 2 of my post, titled Synchronicity, Oprah, Newsweek, and Hormones, it’s not necessary to denigrate someone personally to critique what their ideas. Thank you Susan!

Synchronicity, Oprah, Newsweek, and hormones: Part 2

Back to my main programme, hormones are popularly believed to make people, particularly women, crazy.  Teenagers are hormonal (i.e. difficult and crazy to deal with) with females often being considered the more difficult. How many times have you heard, “Boys are easier.” Then there’s PMS, that’s when a menstruating woman’s hormones make her crazy. Finally, we have menopause (when hormonal output changes again) is well known as a time when women get difficult or crazy.

Coincidentally, Oprah is at that age, the menopausal age. Having difficulty swallowing this? Take a look at p. 37, the page I mentioned in yesterday’s with the original or working title for the article. There’s an image there of Oprah in 1972 when she was crowned Miss Black Nashville. What possible reason is there to run an old beauty pageant picture? The only way it makes any sense within the context of the piece is as contrast. Had they gone with original title they would never have been able to justify using that image. Take a good look at the images they use with the article and ask yourself why they included a picture of Oprah seated in a back seat of a car with curlers in her hair.

The article itself is bookend by the hormone story. It starts with Suzanne Somers and the January 2009 hormone show and ends with a mention of Suzanne Somers lest we forget that this is really about the hormones and aging.

One last thing, there are 20 pages of advertising in the Newsweek issue. Two advertisers from the pharmaceutical sector purchased 10 pages of advertising. The other 10 pages are spread between a travel magazine, telecommunications company, beer, audio equipment, non profit, church, automotive, coffee, automobile software, and an insurance company. Oh, Newsweek itself also has a page.

I don’t think the pharamceutical companies dictated the cover story but the folks at Newsweek had to know that the attack on crazy, wackadoodle alternative therapies would not put any future advertising in jeopardy.

No one element puts the article over the top; it’s the combination of elements. Some of them deliberate and some of them serendipitous. Unfortunately, in the end we’re left with a peculiarly vicious attack on aging and being a woman. In Oprah’s case, a powerful and successful woman.

It’s not necessary to denigrate someone when you’re critcising them. For a more thoughtful critique of Oprah’s health programmes, you can check Dr. Rahul Parikh’s article on Salon.com, here.

Tomorrow, Susan Baxter, author of Estrogen Errors, on how the medical establishment (just like Oprah and Suzanne Somers) has had a longtime infatuation with estrogen.

I’m quite surprised, I just checked Rob Annan’s blog, Researcher Forum: Don’t Leave Canada Behind to find some major changes taking place with regard to the science ministry in the UK and science funding in Germany.

Synchronicity, Oprah, Newsweek, and hormones: Part 1

In one of those odd coincidences, I’d been working on a publicity project for a book called Estrogen Erors; Why Progesterone is Better for Women’s Health by Susan Baxter, PhD, and Jerilynn C. Prior, MD for the last few months when the Newsweek (June 8, 2009) issue featuring Oprah and her health advice  hit the newstands last week.  It really hit hard because an important chunk of the article is about hormones and women and I just have to unpack at least part of the article and the imagery.

I’m going to devote at least the first few days of this week to health information because whilst I was reeling from the Newsweek article I found a misleading discussion of nanotechnology in a fashion magazine. But that’s for later this week.

I should mention I’m not an Oprah fan. I found her programme mildly interesting years ago but these days, I find her programme unwatchable for more than five minutes. In fact, it has to be at least one or two years since I watched even that much.

I think the Newsweek article is the result of a perfect storm. First, I’m assuming that Newsweek is in serious financial trouble and somebody made a business decision to incite people to purchase the magazine. After all, Oprah sells. Second, celebrities are regularly built up and torn down. Oprah has been at the top for a long time and has been relatively unscathed, ’til now.

So, I’d been waiting for some kind of Oprah teardown process for a while and thought the problems with the school in South Africa might start it off. I never guessed that it was going to be health programmes. Now onto the unpacking.

The article itself is laced with cheap shots but it probably wouldn’t have seemed so vicious if the editors had used the working title, Why Oprah may be hazardous to your health (p. 37 on a page called Feature; The First Rough Draft). The title they did choose, CRAZY TALK; Oprah, Wacky Cures & You superimposed over an image of Oprah with mouth open, hands open, palms out, and by her face, and ‘crazy’ curly hair is disturbing. If you were quickly scanning the title and registering the image, you might think it was an article about Oprah going crazy.

The article itself begins on page 55 and it starts with a hormone story. In January 2009 Oprah had a programme about hormones and aging women which featured the actess, Suzanne Somers and other guests.

(Aside: The authors, one of whom has a book on menopause which is being published in September 2009 [it is disclosed in the story although I can’t find exactly where right now], offer some misleading information of their own.

Outside Oprah’s world, there isn’t a raging debate about replacing hormones. p. 55

Pick up a woman’s magazine and you’ll find that there are still people out there who are arguing for adding estrogen in the firm belief that you can never have too much despite evidence to the contrary. [Wednesday this week, Susan Baxter, the lead author for Estrogen Errors, will blog here about the level of misinformation still circulating.]) Part 2 of the unpacking tomorrow.