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Chief surgeon wants an explanation: How did my research on circumcision end up in a course on 'fake health science'?

Circumcision — A freedom of information request for access to documents has not given him the answers he needed, says chief physician and critic of ritual circumcision Morten Frisch.

Chief physician Morten Frisch, Statens Serum Institut, says he is dissatisfied with the way his research – and not least his research communication – has been applied at the University of Copenhagen.

»It is in these circumstances of year-long harassment that I am currently corresponding with the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) to clarify exactly which of my statements that Associate Professor Dan Meyrowitsch has used in his teaching about my alleged fake health science communication,« says Morten Frisch.

Morten Frisch has read in letters and articles in the media Kristeligt Dagblad, Berlingske and The Guardian that Dan Meyrowitsch, who is Associate Professor at the Department of Public Health, has used elements of his long-standing research and research communication on boys circumcision as examples of fake health science.

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Dan Meyrowitsch is, parallel to his work as an associate professor, a member of the chairmanship of Circuminfo, an association that works against a minimum age for ritual circumcision of boys and against any attempts to ban the practice.

Will not put up with ‘fake’ claims

The University Post is not aware of what exactly has happened on the course at the University of Copenhagen. Associate professor Dan Meyrowitsch has not wished to be interviewed, but has instead referred to a post on his Facebook page which states that he has chosen Frisch’s articles and communications for his class because there is »no other similar example of the use of all (and I mean all) of the above tools in the fake health science promotion theory.«

The course:

The description of the course and the reading list can be seen here.

The reading list includes three of Mortens Frisch’s scientific articles – and a link with the anchor text ‘Why Morten Frisch may be wrong’, that leads to a text published on Circuminfo.dk (anonymously authored) which can be seen here.

 

It is widely known that Frisch and Meyrowitsch have been at loggerheads for years in terms of what science can say about the consequences of circumcision in boys. But in recent months, the gloves have come off in earnest in connection with a debate in the media.

»I find it offensive and completely out of line that a UCPH lecturer with a biology background who specialises in tropical parasite diseases, who has never published so much as one scientific paper relevant to circumcision in boys in a recognised journal, repeatedly promotes himself as an expert in the media with accusations that I am communicating fake health science on the subject,« says Morten Frisch.

Complaint sent to his employer – and to 80 other people

Dan Meyrowitsch’s head of department Steffen Loft has refused to comment to the University Post on the content of the articles and comments in the media. He only wants to talk about the content of Dan Meyrowitsch’s course. And here there is nothing Steffen Loft wants to criticise.

Morten Frisch, on the other hand, says that Meyrowitsch on several occasions has pointed to his research status and to his association with the University of Copenhagen in connection with the debate on boys’ circumcision in public, and that the University of Copenhagen should be concerned.

»In 2017 Meyrowitsch authored together with the country’s three rabbis and 58 other defenders of circumcision a smear letter on my alleged misinformation to the general public about the boys circumcision problem. They sent the letter to my workplace at the Statens Serum Institut and to Aalborg University, where I am an affiliate professor, and to approximately 80 other recipients with the purpose of having me fired as head of the population study Project SEXUS. All the accusations in the letter were unfounded, and it was politely, but firmly rejected by both the Statens Serum Institut and Aalborg University,« says Morten Frisch.

No clarification from university’s response to Freedom of Information request

Morten Frisch says he is trying to get an overview of what Dan Meyrowitsch has taught his students:

»I want an explanation from the University of Copenhagen on what Dan Meyrowitsch has specifically taught his students – what it is exactly that he calls fake health science dissemination on my part in both Danish and English newspapers and on his Facebook page. These are really serious accusations, not least given that I myself have for many years been involved in the fight against fake news. This includes being an expert on the Danish Health Authority’s campaign to restore public confidence in the HPV vaccination programme,« says Morten Frisch.

Morten Frisch has received a response to his Freedom of Information request to the University of Copenhagen. But he says it has not cleared things up.

According to the response from the University of Copenhagen’s lawyer, Dan Meyrowitsch has not used any examples of my research communication in his teaching. But Meyrowitsch has on several occasions said the exact opposite in public through the past nine months.

Morten Frisch

»According to the response from the University of Copenhagen’s lawyer, Dan Meyrowitsch has not used any examples of my research communication in his teaching. But Meyrowitsch has on several occasions said the exact opposite in public through the past nine months. Either I have not received a correct response from the University of Copenhagen, or Dan Meyrowitsch has abused his associate professor position, and repeatedly lied publicly about the content of his teaching to taint my name and reputation. Both of these possibilities are serious. And I, of course, want clarification about this,« says Morten Frisch.

According to Frisch, there is evidence in research to suggest that the circumcision of boys is associated with pain, surgical complications, unforeseen eventualities and a number of negative health and sexual consequences, both short- and long-term.

»Several well-conducted clinical studies show, for example, that 5-20 percent of boys who are circumcised in early life will eventually suffer from meatal stenosis,  a narrowing of the opening of the urethra. And Danish boys do not achieve any health benefits from being circumcised. Quite the opposite,« says Morten Frisch.

According to Morten Frisch, it is findings like these that motivate him to continue to find out how his research communication has been used in Dan Meyrowitsch’s course activities.

Translated by Mike Young

Correction: In a previous version of this article, it was stated that Circuminfo work for a minimum age for circumcision, but they work against such a requirement.

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