Tag Archives: pregnancy

birth of and intellectual property

Intellectual property pops up in the strangest places.

Browsing The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg, for instance, I found this discourse on “stealing” baby names:

Not long ago, I heard an expectant mother beside herself with outrage. She had just learned that another woman in her small town had “stolen” her baby name! No, she admitted, she had never met the woman. But for years now she had been planning to name a baby Keaton, a name she had personally invented, and now there was another little Keaton right across town. Someone must have told that other mother her own secret, special name. Thief!

Chances are this was not really a case of name larceny. That mom had just run into a startling fact of baby-name life: Our tastes, which feel so personal, are communal creations. Keaton? Well, it’s a surname ending in “n,” a style parents are flocking to for fresh ideas that sound like classic names. K in particular is a hot first letter. And don’t forget that almost every parent today grew up watching Alex Keaton on Family Ties. So just like that outraged mom, thousands of parents across the country have independently “invented” the name for their kids.

We live in a shared culture with communities and experiences that shape our likes and dislikes. That means overlapping tastes — and as a rule, the closer two people are, the greater the overlap. Many of us have had a long-cherished name “stolen” by friends who had long cherished it themselves. …

… [R]emember that communal taste is really a good thing. That shared perspective is exactly what gives names their style and nuance. It’s also the context that lets you define your own style, meaningfully. …

This is from The Baby Name Wizard, Laura Wattenberg, “Rules of Thumb for Choosing a Name” (2005), p.6 (babynamewizard.com), which is probably my favorite baby name book out there. In addition to the little “definitions” and heritage information about various names, it includes trend information, and a variety of essays (like the one above) that contextualize names and naming. The book was published in 2005, and has a hypnotic and fascinating associated website — the “name voyager” — which provides the most up-to-date trend information for names. Type in any name to see how names beginning with those letters or that name have been trending up or down in the US over the past 125 years.

The book is awesome, in part because the author analyzes the phonemes and meanings of individual names, the data on popularity of individual names, and does significant additional research into news and culture, to discern both causes and meta-trends. For instance, tracking how Aiden and Jaden and many other names have become popular, while Eunice and Beulah and many other formerly popular names have become less so, the author sees that Americans dislike the “yoo” sound in names, but, these days, love the “ehn” sound as an ending. Our common tastes manifest in individual names, but reflect a deeper common taste in phonemes, resonances, and meanings.

The same zeitgeist lies behind numerous simultaneous “inventions” of unique names, and “rediscoveries” of older names. My partner and I loved the name Emma, and thought surely this nice old-fashioned name that is an excellent homage to Emma Goldman would be distinctive. I’m sure that most people reading this know what we were surprised to learn: Not only did we love picking that name out of our collective past, so did practically every other person of our age group: It’s the number two name for our daughters ever since people of our generation started having children.

I quoted Wattenberg at length, because so much of what she was astutely observing about our tastes and creative processes is utterly applicable to everything I think and write about on a daily basis. We humans take our names, and our children’s names, fairly seriously, and spend a decent amount of time scouring for them. In fact, as Wattenberg points out, one of the current trends is to have a unique name — we all try to come up with unique names for our children, and we all do it by assembling the same sets of popular sounds and rhythms.

… Finally, as long as I’m on the topic, you may be amused by this disclaimer on our “hypno-birthing” preparation audiorecording:

Do not listen to this CD while in a moving vehicle.

update 2/26 6pm: Wattenberg had two fascinating posts on the evolution of naming patterns and national identity — L’Etat, c’est nous (Jan. 23) and Part 2: L’Estat, c’est nous (Feb. 13) — deep comment threads. For those of you who, like me, are not what you might call “anthroponymists”, this can be a fun diversion. I was struck most particularly by a short reference in the Feb. 13 column:

Starting in the 16th century most countries moved toward heritable surnames … Modern nation states required more from names, too. In Scandinavia, the patronymic naming system that had existed since the time of the Vikings (Niels Jensen’s son Peder is Peder Nielsen, his daughter Anna is Anna Nielsdatter) was eliminated to aid record-keeping. Taxing, educating and conscripting a mobile population required clear and traceable family names.

“Family names” being the presumptive father’s names, that is. L’Estat, c’est le patriarcat, apparently. But what really struck me was the influence that states and governments have had on this basic feature of identity, and the ways that identity has been created in part as a form of social control.

tech mandates and reproductive care

I never cease to be astonished by how smarmy politicans can be: today, leaders in the Smarm Community, the anti-choice people (‘pro-lifers’). The latest RU-486 story in the NYT, sensationalistically titled “2 More Women Die After Abortion Pills”, covers two recent RU-486 deaths (two, for a total of five; four of which were probably infection-related). Naturally the pro-lifers jumped on it, using the opportunity to pontificate piously and misleadingly. Here’s “Concerned Women of America” policy director Wendy Wright:

“Sadly, people who support RU-486 apparently believe the risk of death is preferable to having a child.”

Wright’s politicized sorrow obscures the facts, some of which are included in the NYT article. It turns out that these two deaths are from infection after RU-486 abortion, and, statistically, the deathrate from infections after childbirth and abortion remains consistent across procedures and methods. [The NYT article fails to mention anything in response to this misleading quote; I would have thought that the risk of death from ‘having a child’ would have been appropriate here. The risk of long-term health problems, considerably greater for childbirth than for any method of abortion, might also have improved the article. But ranting about the NYT is a task for another day. For many other days.]

Politicized Research

The statistics are unsurprising, but in the politicized world of abortion statistics you would have difficulty verifying the data, or trying to flesh out Ms. Wright’s statement. For instance, if you googled something like ‘childbirth abortion mortality rates’, you could see that Google has been successfully bombed by a flood of political sites on the topic (largely anti-abortion). You have to get to the second page of results before you actually start seeing any material from the medical community.

A search of PubMed proved much more helpful. The scientific literature largely treats abortion, pregnancy, and birth control as part of a continuum of family planning and reproductive outcomes — what I’ll call the reproductive medicine approach. This makes sense. Research that seems tailor-made to proving somebody’s point about abortion (from whatever perspective) is just inherently less trustworthy.

The reproductive medicine approach makes clear that when the government gets involved in restricting women’s reproductive choices there are clear medical consequences: Whatever the risks of specific procedures, techniques, and reproductive outcomes, what’s really risky is lack of access to family planning and contraception. Unplanned pregnancies are, ultimately, the cause of most pregnancy & childbirth-related mortality, by leading to high-risk pregnancy, or in many countries, illegal or quasi-legal abortion. In the US, for instance, restrictions on abortion delay many women’s access to the very safe first trimester abortion, perversely leading to more late-term abortions. But the message from those who would politicize and involve the government in individual medical decisionmaking, is never about healthcare or policy, probably because the healthcare policies they would propose would be unacceptable to most people. Instead, they focus on particular technologies, techniques, and procedures — effectively establishing technological mandates and prohibitions.

Technological Mandates Are Bad Government

It’s almost never a good idea for the government to establish technological mandates. Technological developments are notoriously difficult to second-guess or steer; tech mandates all too often exemplify the law of unintended consequences [Library of Economics, WikiPedia]. Whenever Congress or state legislators try to take aim at specific technologies, they end up effecting a lot of other changes, scattershot. And any technologically specific law is bound to be out of date very quickly.

We usually think of tech mandates & prohibitions in geeky areas, like copyright: the DMCA (thou shalt not tamper with copy protection measures, etc.); DAT (digital audio tape recorder manufacturers shall include copy protection schemes); broadcast flags (thou shalt include broadcast flag recognition technology in video recorders). But the same impulses are clearly at play in the politics around abortion and birth control. And as in copyright, politicians’ attempts to mark out this or that technology, technique or method as sinful and wrong is bad policy. The politicization of this or that reproductive medicine technique (most recently emergency contraception and intact dilation and extraction, or so-called ‘partial-birth abortion’) only hampers attempts to improve reproductive medicine and outcomes for women, infants, and their families.

Abortion is only the most obvious example. Legislators do nobody any favors when they start toying with technological mandates in any field.* Look at the recent Congressional hearings on stem-cell research. Saletan in Slate tried to put a good spin on it: These guys are working really hard & exploring the issues; isn’t that nice? Yeah, that’s nice from a personal growth standpoint, but the problem is these guys are making laws about very specific techniques, and they have no clue what they’re talking about, much less doing. They don’t understand biology, they don’t understand genetics, they don’t understand development.

But Congress members do understand policy-making, and one might argue that they understand ethics. Well, err, anyway, they understand policy-making. So if Congress members feel they must Take Action, then I have a suggestion for them: Do what you know — make policy. Set out broad principles of respect for life (which includes the lives and health of women as well as the lives of their potential children) and autonomy. Fund research into family planning methods that enhance autonomy and health. Make principled statements that are general about no wanton cruelty (or whatever) in harvesting stem cells. Skip the specific tech mandates.

Then Congress could let the NSF & NIH apply those guidelines when funding specific grants. That’s what regulators & grantors are good at: reviewing specific proposals to see if they fall within general guidelines. And Congress could let the courts interpret those terms in the course of litigation. That’s what courts are good at: reviewing the facts of particular cases, heartwrenching, difficult cases, and figuring out how to apply broad principles. And Congress could stop grandstanding and micromanaging cases (like Schiavo) and technologies (anything to do with biology, family planning, and copyright protection is by definition a Bad Idea for Congress to muck with — others no doubt will occur).

follow-up: 2005/7/25: The AP version of the story also pointed out that the women who got the infection and took the drugs may not have followed FDA-approved instructions.

The agency also said the four deaths occurred among women who were treated at clinics that didn’t follow FDA-approved instructions for the two- pill regimen. Although the FDA stressed that it could not prove that the “off- label” use was to blame, its new public health advisory warns doctors of the possible link to such use.

The fifth death followed a ruptured tubal pregnancy, a dangerous condition and type of pregnancy that the drug does not terminate.

Geez. Could the NYT article have been any less informative?


* For that matter, technological mandates & prohibitions really might be considered a subspecies of micromanaging generally. The Terri Schiavo fiasco demonstrates why legislators should stay out of individual cases, and far, far out of medical decisionmaking.