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The BBC is reporting that a woman in Iran has given birth to a frog. Doctors are speculating that a frog larva somehow got into her uterus while she was swimming, and then grew inside her to a full-sized frog. That seems very unlikely to me. What would a frog feed on inside a person's body? Wouldn't the frog suffocate? Actually, the brief article seems a bit ambiguous on whether it's definitely a frog that came out of her, or if it's a baby that looks rather frog-like. Either way, this case immediately reminded me of Mary Toft, the 18th-century English woman who gave birth to rabbits. Of course, Mary Toft didn't really give birth to rabbits. She stuffed rabbits inside herself and then pretended to give birth to them. It seems possible this Iranian woman is pulling a Mary Toft.
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Sun Jun 27, 2004
Comments (14)
Back in May I posted an entry about a German couple who went to a fertility clinic to find out why they couldn't produce a child. The reason: they hadn't realized that you first have to have sex in order to get pregnant. Supposedly they both came from very religious backgrounds and had never been taught about the birds and the bees. The clinic was said to be planning to conduct a survey to find out if there were other similarly clueless couples out there. This story was widely reported in the news, even though it seemed a little far-fetched, to say the least. At the time I noted that a case kind of like this had been reported in a medical journal, but that the reason the couple didn't have sex was not because they didn't realize what they were supposed to do, but because the husband suffered from erectile dysfunction. I emailed the German clinic where the clueless couple was said to have been treated and finally received a reply confirming that the case of the clueless couple reported in the English-language media did derive from the case of the couple who didn't have sex for more mechanical reasons. Here's the email I received from the doctor:

Dear Alex Boese,

As one of the authors of the paper you asked for Prof Johannisson I would like to inform you, that in fact we treated such a couple. The problem wasn't that the couple had tried to get pregnant without having sexual intercourse - the reason for not having sexual intercourse was psychogenic erectile dysfunction in the male. They were aware of their problem and not treated with assisted reproductive techiques. We send them to a psychologist for counselling. The reason to publish this case report was to make doctors sensible for those problems. All other things, described in this paper on (1) the religious background and (2) a planned survey etc are not true and definitively not related to this case! May be, others have had a similiar case published which I am not aware of. Hope, this information helps you to put some light on the situation.


Priv. Doz. Dr. med. M. Ludwig


Zentrum für Hormon- und Stoffwechselerkrankungen,

gynäkologische Endokrinologie und Reproduktionsmedizin

So that settles that. There was a very small grain of truth to the story, but in its passage from a medical journal article to the Daily Mirror and beyond, the story was improved quite a bit.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Sat Jun 26, 2004
Comments (0)
Back in October 2001 the prestigious Journal of Reproductive Medicine published an article titled "Does Prayer Influence the Success of in Vitro Fertilization–Embryo Transfer?" (the journal appears to have removed this article from its server). The apparent answer to the question posed in the title was 'Yes!' In other words, empirical research appeared to demonstrate that praying could help infertile women conceive. So tough luck if you were an infertile atheist. But a recent article in The Observer reveals that this prayer study was nothing more than a sham. The author of the article, Daniel Wirth, is a serial con-artist, now living under house arrest in California, who possesses no scientific credentials whatsoever. It boggles the mind why the JRM ever published something like this. As Bob Carroll of the Skeptic's Dictionary points out, never mind that the research was fraudulent. The entire premise of it was self-contradictory. He notes:
If prayer works by influencing God to influence the outcome of an experiment, then God can interfere with the laws of nature at any time. If God can interfere with the laws of nature at any time, then no controlled, double-blind study can be sure of the meaning of whatever outcome results. Any result could be the result of direct influence by God. In other words, the assumption the study is based on is self-defeating. No science at all would be possible if God could be interfering with the laws of nature at will. Science requires a backdrop of lawfulness in Nature in order to discover any causal connection between anything and anything else.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Religion, Science
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 11, 2004
Comments (1)
This story just seems wrong on so many levels... Four years ago a 40-year old Mexican woman, alone in the middle of Nowhere, is giving birth to a baby. Her husband is getting drunk at the local cantina. She's been in labor twelve hours, and the baby isn't coming out. So she reaches over, grabs a butcher knife, slices open her stomach, reaches inside her uterus and pulls out her baby boy. Miraculously both her and the baby survive. When I read this story, it triggered all kinds of hoax alarm bells in my mind. How could anyone possibly do that, I thought. Wouldn't she have passed out from the pain? What about infection? Isn't it a little suspicious that there were no witnesses (though I suppose the very reason she did this was because there was no one around)? But when I did some research, sure enough the case has been described in a scientific journal. So it looks like the story is true. Amazing.
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 07, 2004
Comments (7)
Last week the British Daily Mirror printed a story about a particularly clueless German couple. As the article put it:
"Fertility doctors were baffled when a perfectly-healthy couple claimed they couldn't have children - until they confessed they had never made love. The husband, 36, and his 32-year-old wife thought that all they had to do to make a baby was to lie next to each other and let nature take its course."
This story got picked up by wire services, and soon was being linked to all over the internet. But was there actually any truth to the story?
The snopes website, skeptical of the story, pointed out that 'tales of sexually naive adults who don't understand what sex is' are a common subject for urban legends. But other internet sleuths dug a little deeper and discovered that the Daily Mirror's story actually derived from a real case. Comments left at Der Schockwellenreiter website (in German) pointed to this April 2003 medical article describing a couple who sought fertility treatment at the Lubeck clinic, only to later confess that after eight years of marriage they had never actually had sex. The reason: the husband suffered from erectile dysfunction.
Another article from the Medical Tribune describes this same case in more detail (the article is in German, so I used BabelFish to produce a rough translation of it). So the Daily Mirror's story improves on the actual case quite a bit. A whole lot, in fact. But it's not complete fiction. The author of the article was Allan Hall, a reporter based in Germany who regularly sells stories to the British tabloids (back in the 1990s he was the London Sun's New York correspondent). He seems to enjoy taking weird stories and juicing them up to make them even weirder. Headlines from some of his other stories include, "Dog Called Adolf Gave Nazi Salute to Children," "My Twins Had Different Dads," and "Eaten By His Pet Spiders" (this final article was apparently also more fiction than fact). (I got many of these links via Heiko Hebig)
Categories: Birth/Babies, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Sun May 23, 2004
Comments (1)
image Here's your chance to bid on a rare collectible item: an unopened 24-pack of Angel Soft toilet paper that shows the baby sporting a gaping flesh wound. The seller suggests it's a manufacturer's misprint. Or maybe the toilet paper is cursed (the seller didn't suggest this, but he should have, since everyone knows that demonically possessed items sell like hotcakes on eBay) . It could be like those photographs in The Omen that foretold how people were going to die. Whatever it is, misprint or mark of the devil, the wound seems a little hoaxy to me, though I suppose a printing error could cause something like this.
Categories: Birth/Babies, eBay
Posted by Alex on Thu May 06, 2004
Comments (1)
I talked about the Godsend Institute (the website of a cloning lab that's really a promo for an upcoming movie of the same name) a few days ago. I said that I really didn't think the site was that convincing. But maybe others have been fooled by it because someone started an online petition to ban the Godsend Institute. Of course, I'm not above suspecting that the petition was started by the movie studio itself as a way to generate faux controversy. This was a favorite ploy of P.T. Barnum. Back in 1835 he was exhibiting Joice Heth, an elderly black woman whom he claimed was the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington. When attendance at the exhibit began to decrease, he sent an anonymous letter to a local paper angrily declaring that Heth was a fake, a "curiously constructed automaton, made up of whalebone, India-rubber, and numberless springs." Sure enough, attendance immediately picked up again as visitors returned to see if Heth really was an old woman or a mechanical automaton.
Categories: Advertising, Birth/Babies, Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Sun Apr 18, 2004
Comments (1)
image A few people have written to me about the Godsend Institute, which is supposedly a Massachusetts fertility clinic that offers human cloning as an option for its patients. Its website is quite slick and well produced, but the Godsend Institute is, of course, not real. The site is part of the advertising campaign for the upcoming movie Godsend starring Robert De Niro. Wired published an article about this yesterday. Ever since the Blair Witch Project succeeded in creating such a buzz five years ago with its companion website, movie studios have sought to repeat this trick by creating sites that try to convince websurfers that their fictional characters or companies are real. The site for the upcoming I, Robot, starring Will Smith, is a recent example. As is Lacuna, Inc., which is a fictitious company featured in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I would say the strategy is wearing a bit thin now because a) the sites usually aren't that believable (for instance, you can kind of recognize Robert De Niro on the Godsend Institute site, which blows the whole cover), and b) they're not that interesting even if you do believe they're real. They give surfers little to do or explore. The Blair Witch site worked not only because it suggested the witch was real, but also because it gave people lots of interesting background material on her to browse through. One recent studio-created site that did understand this was Kingdom Hospital (from the ABC miniseries). It didn't simply try to convince you that Kingdom Hospital was real. Creepy things also started to happen as you navigated around the site, which made it fun to explore.
Categories: Advertising, Birth/Babies, Entertainment, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 15, 2004
Comments (2)
Maya-Anne Mays was living the good life. She had a couple paying her rent, buying her meals, and giving her money. Why? Because the couple thought she was pregnant, and they were going to adopt her baby. But it turned out Mays wasn't pregnant... just overweight. She had managed to pass a pregnancy test by taking the test soon after having a miscarriage. The couple finally wised up and forced her to take another test, which she failed.
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 29, 2004
Comments (1)
This one had me going for a while before I figured out it was a joke. The EETimes reports on a small Belgian company called Prophy-Lectric that has developed a cellphone add-on, dubbed the Nippit 3000. This remarkable device "projects a high-intensity ultra-sonic electromagnetic 'sound cone' that is inaudible to the human ear but fatal to any sperm cell within a range of six meters, or about 18 feet." In other words, just place it next to the bed during moments of intimacy, and that's all the birth control you need. As an added benefit, the high-pitched sound also keeps the dog away. I've noticed that quite a few websites have linked to this story without any acknowledgment (or apparent recognition) that it's a joke.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Sex/Romance, Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 18, 2004
Comments (0)
Clonaid now claims that it has created its sixth human clone, in the form of a baby boy born in Sydney last week. Once again, no evidence of any kind was provided to back up this claim. You're just supposed to take their word for it. And come on! They seem like an extremely credible bunch, don't they?
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 12, 2004
Comments (5)
baby Discover all kinds of recipes for cooking and eating babies at For instance, you might want to try baby soup or baby stir fry. The site is plastered with warnings announcing that it's all just a joke (I guess they must have got complaints), but I suppose it'll still attract criticism from people who think it might provide sick and twisted individuals with bad ideas. Personally, I think the site would have been funnier if it had provided recipes for eating the babies of poor people, thus playing off of Jonathan Swift's classic work, A Modest Proposal. (Thanks to Antonia for the link).
Categories: Birth/Babies, Gross, Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 28, 2004
Comments (5)
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