Dr. Lazar Greenfield digs himself in deeper

I should have popped up some popcorn. I had a feeling this was coming, but who knew it would be so entertaining when it finally happened?

On Tuesday, I wrote about how famed vascular surgeon Dr. Lazar Greenfield had written a bizarre, sexist attempt at Valentines Day humor in which he implied that evolutionary biology meant shows that semen is a mood enhancer for women and in essence recommended unprotected sex on Valentine’s day, slipped his lame attempt at humor into the official newsletter of the American College of Surgeons, and then as a result was later forced to resign his position as the President-Elect of the ACS. At the time I remember thinking that, if Dr. Greenfield were wise, he’d just let the issue drop.

It turns out that Dr. Greenfield is apparently not particularly wise. At least, on this particular issue, he has no sense of restraint and no clue about why his writings offended a great many women. It turns out that Dr. Greenfield’s doubled down on the sexism. From both Buckeye Surgeon and Medscape Medical News, I’ve learned that on Wednesday Dr. Greenfield sent out an e-mail to a bunch of press outlets. In essence, not satisfied with just digging himself in deeper, he got out a backhoe and started digging foundations. The e-mail has been widely published:

The reports surrounding my resignation as President-elect of the American College of Surgeons lead readers to conclude that I represent an old-guard generation that represses women in surgery. Since nothing could be further from the truth, I can no longer remain silent in an attempt to protect the organization.

Sadly, it would appear that Dr. Greenfield’s ego has gotten the better of him to the point where he can’t even put the good of the ACS over it any more. First, Greenfield retreats into the “I was only joking” defense, which, while true, is irrelevant. He then pointed out that he has a long track record of recruiting and promoting women in surgery which, while this is certainly admirable and has served to lead many to give him the benefit of the doubt and accept his apology, only made what comes next worse. That’s because, unfortunately, in his e-mail Dr. Greenfield couldn’t resist destroying any reason for anyone, myself included, to keep trying to give him the benefit of the doubt about his foot-in-mouth disease. First, he attacks the women’s groups:

I had hoped to make my experience one that others could learn from by appearing at meetings of women surgeons to discuss forms of hidden or unconscious discrimination, but that did not fit their agenda. There should have been a way to reach a less destructive outcome.

Then he tries to turn the tables on the women who complained about his op-ed piece:

So let’s reverse the situation, and say that a woman editor wrote something that some men found offensive. After they voiced their history of repression, she decided it would be best for the paper if she resigned as Editor. But that wasn’t enough, and other men’s organizations demanded that she resign as the incoming elected President. The conclusion is obvious: men are ruthless and vindictive.”

Oh, no, Dr. Greenfield! Please don’t tell me you’re pulling the hoariest, least convincing, most annoyingly sexist bit in the book used by men trying to justify their sexism! Not only does it not make sense, but it completely fails to recognize the historical differential in power and influence between men and women in surgery as well as the history of denigration and sexual harassment. I can’t recall seeing such a tone-deaf, self-centered, whiny response to criticism in a long time. I mean, geez, he seems to think that some “ruthless and vindictive” cadre of radical feminists conspired to deny him his due. If I had any doubts about Dr. Greenfield’s sexism or whether his being forced to resign as president-elect of the ACS was too harsh a penalty for his prior offense (and I did, actually), those doubts have completely evaporated.

It’s depressing when a god of surgery lets you down so spectacularly.

ADDENDUM: Hoo-boy. Apparently the authors of the rather dubious study cited by Dr. Greenfield to bolster his bad joke can’t leave well enough alone and have decided to jump into the fray. Michael Smerconish at that wretched hive of scum and quackery, The Huffington Post, has decided to weigh in on Dr. Greenfield’s side in a post entitled Lazar Greenfield’s ‘Semengate’ Stuns Scientific Community. I’ll give him credit for coming up with a pithy name for this whole kerfuffle. Other than that, not so much. A good rule of thumb is that whenever you see an author call something the “PC story of the week” (and when it’s clear that PC does not mean “personal computer”), there’s a high probability that you’re about to be “treated” to an apologia for sexism or racism. Smerconish doesn’t deviate from that rule of thumb. Don’t believe me? Get a load of a couple of excerpts from the letter by Steven M. Platek, Rebecca L. Burch, and Gordon G. Gallup, Jr. that Smerconish proudly trumpets:

Frankly, we think people are over reacting to the comments made by Dr. Lazar Greenfield. There is growing evidence that human semen has the potential to produce profound effects on women. We have replicated the effects showing female college students having sex without condoms are less depressed as measured by objective scores on the Beck Depression Inventory. We’ve also examined the data as a function of whether the students were using hormonal contraceptives, whether they were in committed relationships, and how long these relationships have lasted. The anti-depressant properties of semen exposure do not vary as function of any of these conditions. It is not a question of whether females are sexually active, since students having sex with condoms show the same level of depression as those who are not having sex at all. We have also received numerous semen testimonials from other women who attest to the anti-depressant effects of semen exposure and these accounts often include the use of control trials (i.e., comparisons generated by switching from condoms to unprotected sex, or vice a versa).

I’ve already pointed out the shortcomings of this study; so I was curious about where they had published their “replication.” PubMed has a wonderful feature in which it pops up “related citations” in the right sidebar of any citation you look up. I didn’t recall seeing any related citations presenting confirmatory data for Gallup et al‘s study. I searched PubMed using the names of all three authors of the original “semen” study and found no publications regarding the antidepressant properties of semen since the original 2002 study cited by Dr. Greenfield. I found a lot of publications about yawning and mental states, but no followup study or replication of the infamous “semen” study. color me unimpressed, particularly given that three people who purport to be scientists actually cite testimonials–testimonials!–to bolster their argument.

Even so, I might have been able to give Platek et al the benefit of the doubt, given that it was citing their poorly analyzed and designed study that got Dr. Greenfield into so much trouble in the first place, if they hadn’t finished their letter with a truly awe-inspiringly dumb flourish (just as I might have given Dr. Greenfield a bit more benefit of the doubt when it comes to sexism if he hadn’t dug himself in deeper by sending such a tone-deaf e-mail to the press last Wednesday). Here are Platek et al revealing their true colors:

How can someone be asked to resign for citing a peer-reviewed paper? Dr. Greenfield was forced to resign based on politics, not evidence. His resignation is more a reflection of the feminist and anti-scientific attitudes of some self-righteous and indignant members of the American College of Surgeons. Science is based on evidence, not politics. In science knowing is always preferable to not knowing.

Ah, yes, it’s those eeeevvvilll feminist attitudes! I suppose I should be grateful that they managed to restrain themselves from blaming the controversy in “femi-Nazis.” It’s also a massive straw man argument. No one said that it’s not worth knowing whether or not semen has antidepressant properties. Seriously, Drs. Platek, Burch, and Gallup. Go back and read all the criticism. No one said you should never have done that study. Seriously. (On the other hand, some of us, like myself, really, really wish you had done a much more scientifically rigorous study than what you in fact did.) Rather, it was how Dr. Greenfield used your peer-reviewed paper to bolster his sexist joke that got him into hot water. Oh, and the conclusions you made in your peer-reviewed paper were weak at best, crap at worst.

Oh, well, suppose I should be glad that Platek et al managed to restrain themselves from blaming the controversy in “femi-Nazis.” That’s what’s known as being thankful for small favors.