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Why we pay $1000 for a $20 medical test

Pap smears — the pre-cancer-screening that most women get annually when they visit a gynecologist — should only cost about $20 or $30, writes Dr. Cheryl Bettigole in The New England Journal of Medicine. So, why then, are more women (and/or their insurance companies) paying much, much more — sometimes upwards of $1000? A big part of the problem is add-on tests — extra screenings that haven't been shown to make women healthier, but do add a lot to the cost of an annual exam. Turns out, medical laboratories have started marketing these pap+ tests, using some of the same techniques pharmaceutical companies have long used to sell more expensive treatments to doctors.

Celebrate Ada Lovelace Day by adding more female scientists to Wikipedia

October 15 is Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of women in science and engineering, centered around the lady who is credited with publishing the first computer programs ever written. What does one do for Ada Lovelace Day? How about spending some time editing Wikipedia? There's an official edit-a-thon in honor of the holiday, aimed at improving and increasing Wikipedia's coverage of women in the sciences.

The story of the rapist's wife

The rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student last December drew worldwide attention to India's struggles with tradition, women's rights, and street harassment. In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Krishna Pokharel and Aditi Malhotra add another layer to that onion, following the story of Punita Devi, the wife of one of the convicted rapists. She, too, is suffering from the fallout of her husband's choices — and in ways that come back to those issues of tradition and equality. Living in a rural area where widows lose both their honor and any viable means of financial support, Devi is facing a future where she expects to be turned out of her in-laws' home, cannot return to her parents, and is judged and punished ... not for being the wife of a rapist, but for being nobody's wife.

The archives of Pen & Pixel

Perhaps the greatest album cover designers of our times. [University of Houston via Brendan Koerner]

Poor white women and a public health mystery

Over the past 18 years the life expectancy for white women who didn't finish high school has dropped precipitously. Today, those women can expect to die five years earlier than their counterparts a generation ago. It's one of the biggest magnitude losses in life expectancy ever recorded, and nobody knows what's causing it. At the American Prospect, Monica Potts reports on scientists efforts to untangle the knot of correlations at the heart of this public health mystery and tells the story of one woman, Crystal Wilson, whose life and death mirrors the statistics.

Abortions do happen in Catholic hospitals - they just aren't called that

The most dangerous time to be a woman in need of a life-saving abortion at a Catholic hospital is right after that hospital has been consolidated into a Catholic system, according the medical demographer Dr. Diana Foster. That's because doctors with more experience in the Catholic system are more likely to secretly offer therapeutic abortions under the table, and get away with it.

Behind every great man is a woman doing his transcriptions and data analysis

"Read a piece of scholarship from the mid-twentieth century, and you are likely reading the work of a male scholar and his wife," writes Ronit Y. Stahl at the Nursing Clio blog. More importantly, the contributions of those wives are seldom mentioned, despite the fact that they often ran the lab and the statistical analyses that produced the great works of research credited to their husbands. Stahl offers an interesting look at history — and how women are still going uncredited for their contributions to men's work, today.

Life of astronaut Sally Ride honored in Kennedy Center tribute


American astronaut Sally Ride monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the flight deck in 1983. Photo by Apic/Getty Images, via PBS NewsHour.

Tonight, PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien will serve as master of ceremonies in a Kennedy Center gala honoring the life and legacy of astronaut Sally Ride. The tribute will highlight her impact on the space program and her lifelong commitment to promoting youth science literacy.

Her Sally Ride Science organization reached out to girls, encouraging them to pursue careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, where a gender gap persists.

At the PBS NewsHour website, read the column Miles wrote immediately following Ride's death in July 2012, 17 months after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

A Mother's Day memoir of a scientist who beat the odds

"To become a scientist is hard enough. But to become one while running a gauntlet of lies, insults, mockeries, and disapproval — this was what my mother had to do." Mother's Day was yesterday, but you'll still want to read this fantastic essay from 2002, written by journalist Charles Hirschberg about his mother, geophysicist Joan Feynman.

Technology, business, culture and more ... from a female perspective

Medium just launched Lady Bits, a new collection hosted by former Wired.com editor Arikia Millikan. The goal: Provide a space for the kinds of stories and perspectives that get left out of traditional magazines because of advertising profiles that say tech readers are all dudes. It's a worthy idea and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

It should not be a crazy shock to learn that there are women who f&$*ing love science

More importantly, it's not a compliment to make a Facebook page dedicated to talking about how you would totally bang a specific woman who f&#(ing loves science and it's definitely not okay to cut-paste her head onto softcore porn screencaps. I'm posting this because I want you to understand the distinction. We live in a world where sexism is ingrained and damn near all of us grew up learning biases that might make us surprised to find women enthusiastically promoting science and math. That doesn't make you a bad person. It makes you a person who lives in a bad system. Really, the moment of surprise should be an opportunity to re-think the biases we grew up with and create change. But when you take that news and, instead, use it to objectify and harass those women, then you have a huge personal problem. And, also, you suck.

The trial of a 14th century female doctor

In November 1322, Jakoba (or Jacoba) Felicie stood trial in her native Paris for the crime of practicing medicine without official sanction. Over the course of the trial, it became clear that her work as a doctor had been excellent. But Dr. Felicie was stuck in an unfortunate catch-22. She could not legally work as a doctor without first getting professional training. And she could not get professional training because she was a woman. The ScienceZest blog tells her story.

The true story of the woman who performed mercy abortions at Auschwitz

Gisella Perl was Romanian and Jewish. She was a gynaecologist at a time and place where very few women went into the medical professions. In 1944, she and her entire family were shipped off to Auschwitz, where Perl was instructed to provide medical care for her fellow inmates — medical care that was supposed to happen without even the most basic medical supplies.

In this position, she was officially employed by Josef Mengele, and she saw what happened to women who entered Auschwitz while pregnant. The short answer was death. The long answer was that those deaths were often horrifying and drawn-out. So Gisella Perl gave herself a new job — protecting women by helping them hide evidence of pregnancy and by performing abortions with her bare hands.

I'd never heard Perl's story before. It's heartbreaking. And it's riveting. The Holocaust History Project has a long and well-cited version.

Nobel scientist Rita Levi-Montalcini, 103, dies in Rome

The Italian neurologist and "senator for life" Rita Levi Montalcini, who won the Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 1986, died in Rome. She was 103. Rome's mayor says the biologist, who conducted underground research in defiance of Fascist persecution, and went on to win a Nobel Prize for helping unlock the mysteries of the cell, died at her home in the city. More at the Associated Press. (HT: @csanz)

Amazons with a Cause

Why are women first to pay for every crisis? In every society, capitalist, socialist, or transition? It's because the bodies of women are expendable.

I always noticed how women over eighty in Turin looked incredibly well, beautiful and loved and taken care of: desirable, because old and valuable. I connected this to Italy's long-established and sophisticated health care system. Italian hospitals were famous for methods which preserved the dignity of the patients, in tumor cures, especially breast cancer: the "invisible mastectomy" was invented in Milan. Rather than simply intervening in crisis, they were good at illness prevention and attentive follow-ups.

The economic crisis and financial harassment of Italy has reached this safe haven of health and dignity. In Turin, one of the best clinics for cure and prevention of breast cancer is about to be closed. The patients are on the streets, their appointments cannot be scheduled, they are paying for their urgent operations because their doctors cannot help them. The doctors are on the streets too.

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Slate's "The Vault" is a great, new history blog

Rebecca Onion is the curator at a new Slate blog that showcases nifty finds from America's historical archives. So far, she's got a photo of the be-loinclothed winner of a eugenics-inspired Better Baby Contest; a breakup letter written by Abraham Lincoln; and this specimen of 1950s-style STEM recruitment toys for girls.

What's interesting about this chemistry set is that you can't really say it's more or less sexist than the types of science kits you see marketed heavily to girls today. Sure, it's in a pink box and heavily insinuates that the best job a woman can hope for in science is as somebody's assistant. But, on the other hand, it's apparently the exact same chemistry set sold to boys, just with different packaging. Whereas today, pink-colored science kits trend heavily toward "girl" things, like teaching you how to make your own scented soaps — but at least you're in charge of the soap-making lab.

Progress!

The set, which is preserved in the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s collection of chemistry sets, is a product of post-WWII anxiety over the nation’s lack of what was called “scientific manpower.” Having seen what a difference science made in the war (the bomb, radar, penicillin), and realizing that the amount of work to be done in labs and industrial R&D was limitless, Americans worried that insufficient numbers of young people wanted to be scientists. Some called for young women to be included in recruitment efforts. Women had been largely shut out of scientific careers up until that point. But they had a major point in their favor: They were undraftable. If girls got the right training, future wartime labs could be staffed by women, who were naturally bound to the homefront.

But all science jobs are not alike, and women didn’t get the plum ones. Historian John Rudolph, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has written about postwar efforts to upgrade the science curriculum. He found that girls were recruited to science careers after the war, but only for jobs that were to the side of the main show: lab technician, science teacher.

Read the rest at The Vault

Breast cancer patients: Stanford launches lymphedema registry study

Lymphedema occurs in about 7% of breast cancer patients who have undergone sentinel lymph node biopsy (to see if disease has spread to these lymph nodes), and in greater percentage of patients whose nodes end up being removed (because one or more contain cancer) and patients who receive radiation therapy after breast surgery. Lymphedema is basically a chronic swelling of the affected arm, caused by trapped lymph fluid. It can be disabling, disfiguring, and extremely painful.

"Once lymphedema develops, it is permanent," says my friend Dr. Deanna Attai, a breast surgeon in Burbank, CA. "Physical therapy can help minimize swelling and other complications, but there is currently no cure. Early recognition and prompt treatment definitely makes a difference."

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