Of Pinheads And Penis Sizes
See if you can spot the pinheads: Two researchers at British Columbia's Children's Hospital, Canada, are engaged in cutting-edge work. Not the kind to let the shortage of high tech medical equipment in the province get in the way of science, the two potential Nobel Prize laureates intend to take a measuring tape to the penises of their newborn charges to see whether there is a relationship between size and race. Team member Dr. Pik Shun Cheng, vaporized about "the diagnosis of small penis carrying important implications for babies and parents." More like a case of outsized ambition wrapped in pseudo-scientific bafflegab.
Says this medical maven from Honk Kong who is serving a clinical fellowship at the children's hospital: "Penis size by race has largely gone unstudied". And what a loss that is. Think of the wealth of information to be gleaned from a bell-curve graph neatly plotted with penile size and race, the mind boggles. The man in charge of the diaper invasion is a Dr. Jean-Pierre Chanoinen, a brain influx from Brussels. He told Global TV that in his country, this endeavor would not have inked the back page of a local newspaper. Of course, Global's reporter took the good doctor's word that, notwithstanding the study's controversial nature, it had medical merit. Does it?
Observe the desperate attempts by the under-siege faux researchers to put forth a cogent scientific argument in the press; an attempt gobbled up wholesale by the media phalanx. "In particular, we do encounter some cases of very short penile length, and then we need to decide whether they should be raised as a girl or a boy—whether they need to have a sexual reversal," said Cheng.
Is this for real? Is one of the aims of this study to help Cheng decide if and when to lop off a penis should it be smaller than she would like? And how does this quest relate to race? I imagine she might spare a baby his appendage if she knew that, despite his shortcomings, the child conformed to his race's aggregate endowment or lack thereof. Goes to show that not all correlations are worthy of study.
There have been a couple of devastating experiments in medical history in which doctors have removed a child's penis because it had been damaged, and proceeded to fashion in its place female genitalia. Pumped with female hormones and taught to play with Barbie, these children were viewed as textbook successes. But whittling down what it means to be male to the presence or absence of a male organ proved arrogant. The reassigned children were often doomed to a life of desperation brought on because a hard-wired gender identity had been tampered with. At heart, the physician-created girls were still boys. "We do not recommend such imposed sex reassignment regardless of penile condition," wrote Milton Diamond Ph.D. and Keith Sigmundson MD in a 1997 paper for "Archives, Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine."
In the wake of the rising controversy, Dr. Chanoinen stuck steadfast to his claim that by measuring their penises he was merely looking out for the health of the infants, so he threw into the medical voodoo his concern for the worst case scenario. What if he missed hypoglycemia and seizures brought on by hormonal deficiencies? Let's follow the Chanoinen algorithm: When baby isn't thriving what do you do? Why, you reach for the Penile-Race Chart, of course. "Ah, baby is Asian hmmm... and its penis is still smaller than the mean average suggested in my chart, then let me check for hypoglycemia". Why not just throw some bones on the table and see what the ancestral spirits say?
The National Post missed the whole issue completely, insinuating that the good doctor was the casualty of a political correctness, which disallows research involving racial characteristics. Making the case for the shoddy inquiry, the Post extrapolated the connection between race and penis size to the fit of condoms and the prevention of AIDS. So now we have moved from the violation of the dignity of babies in B.C., to the politics of the World Health Organization. Without going into details, I suspect condom manufacturers have pretty much got a grip on the size thing and do not need to take into consideration B.C.'s demographics.
Here's a more useful avenue of inquiry for our medical boneheads: What about testing the connection between small penises and a dictatorial personality? This, you would agree, is a matter for the B.C. Human Rights Kangaroo Commission. While the Commission would not wish to extend special protection to the minimally endowed, it would nonetheless be eager to know if there are any little chauvinists being hothoused in our backyards; the type of male who, fueled by inferiority, is capable of human rights violations.
Why not preempt such a scenario and make it mandatory for an infant, singled out for his small penis, to sign up for an education initiative intended to weed out any defiance caused by the frustrations of a diminished manhood. Something akin to the post World War II denazification programs. Herein lies the true social value of Drs. Chanoinene and Cheng's proposal. It is certainly no more a reductio ad absurdum than measuring the penis size of a child alongside his race.
©1999 By Ilana MercerA version of this article was published in The North Shore News