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What Does That Penn Study Actually Conclude?
In yesterday's post, Suckers for Strawmen, I responded to an article entitled "A scientific perspective on ‘A New York circumcision controversy,’ by Dr. Daniel Berman, Professor Brenda Breuer, and Professor Awi Federgruen. In support of their claim that there is no reason to believe that metzizah b'peh is dangerous, they wrote as follows:
A 2013 University of Pennsylvania study, moreover, analyzed the relevant evidence and all the prevailing literature and concluded [emphasis added - N.S.] that: “This evidence base is significantly limited by a very small number of reported infections, most of which were not identified or documented systematically. Other important limitations include incomplete data about relevant elements of the cases, the presence of confounding factors, and indirect data sources.”
I took a look at the University of Pennsylvania study, which most readers won't do. Here is the concluding paragraph:
Neonatal HSV infection can cause severe morbidity and death, so mitigating potential risks for infection is critical. Current evidence suggests that direct orogenital suction during ritual circumcision was the likely source of infection in recent cases that resulted in significant illness and death. Future research using cohort or case-control designs that fully capture all of the relevant data are needed to more rigorously examine this association.
In light of a misrepresentation such as this, it's all the more remarkable that the authors describe themselves as "disinterested medical and statistical expert witnesses."
For a thorough dissection of all the errors and flaws in the article, see the Rationalist Medical Halachist's extensive new post, "MBP Again! A Scientific Perspective?"
UPDATE: It turns out the University of Penn has already publicly criticized these people for distorting this study. Joel Betesh, project director of the study, stated, “I do not agree with the way they are portraying our report.” See this article in the Forward, "Penn Researchers Charge Orthodox Misused Report on Circumcision Rite."
UPDATE II: It was pointed out that the writers were actually referring to an earlier unpublished version of the Penn paper rather than the published version. First of all, this itself is dishonest. Second, even the earlier version is not in line with these writers' claims. Here is the final paragraph from the earlier version (from here):
Neonatal infection with HSV-1 carries a risk for potentially severe morbidity, including the possibility of death, so exposure to infection should be carefully considered. The available evidence indicates that circumcision with direct orogenital suction may be a risk factor for infection, but this evidence base is small and significantly limited. Hopefully, future studies will provide additional evidence on this and other risk factors for neonatal HSV-1 infection.