Policy ForumBehavior

Female genital cutting is not a social coordination norm

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Science  25 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6255, pp. 1446-1447
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa7978

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  • RE: Mischaracterization and misrepresentation of Tostan and its work

    January 12, 2018
    Re: Efferson et al. (2015), “Female genital cutting is not a social coordination norm,” Science 349(6235):1446-1447
    1200 New York Avenue NW
    Washington, DC 20005

    Dear Sir or Madam,

    On behalf of Tostan's Board of Directors, I am writing to protest the misrepresentation of the nonprofit organization, Tostan, in Science September 25, 2014 (vol 349, issue 6255). Although Tostan is not specifically referenced in the main body of the text, it is referenced in several footnotes. The Tostan Board was not aware that we could respond to this article until we recently learned of the Science e-letter site. The mischaracterizations in this article have hurt our reputation, creating confusion for our donors and supporters and detracting from the positive work Tostan is doing in the field.

    Here are the misleading statements (with phrases italicized that we claim mischaracterize Tostan):

    "The strong policy implication is that development workers must assemble a critical mass of families in a short period of time to move the share of cutting families from above to below the threshold (4-6). After publicly crossing the critical threshold, cutting should then disappear on its own, quite apart from the activities of the development agency. This idea has been attractive because it suggests how a limited intervention can lead to long-term improvements in wellbeing” (p. 1446).

    ...Show More
    Competing Interests: I am chair of the board of Tostan who is concerned by the referenced article
  • RE: Mischaracterization and misrepresentation of Tostan and its work
    Competing Interests: I am chair of the board of Tostan who is concerned by the referenced article.
  • RE: All major findings are seriously flawed and the mistaken results are a risk to public health
    • Gerry Mackie, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Califorina, San Diego

    Re: Efferson et al. (2015), “Female genital cutting is not a social coordination norm,” Science 349(6235):1446-1447 & Supplementary Materials

    Dear Science Editors and Readers:

    The editors of Science and the authors of the article are professionally and morally obliged to reconsider Efferson et al. (FGCNSCN). The article is so seriously flawed that its findings and conclusions should not be relied upon and the mistaken results pose a risk to public health. This is no trivial matter. We know from systematic data collection that more than 200 million women in 30 countries are subjected to this harmful practice. https://data.unicef.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/FGMC-2016-brochure_25...

    A detailed 15,000-word appraisal of FGCNSCN, with diagrams, tables and illustrations that cannot be displayed in the plain-text format required for Science e-letters, can be found at

    Here is a summary outline of FGCNSCN’s problems.

    1. The prevailing scientific and policy view on the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) is that it is a social coordination norm. I am a progenitor of that theory and practice, beginning in Mackie 1996 (see linked appraisal for citations). Although a leading...

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    Competing Interests: I have studied and advised the NGO Tostan off and on since 1999. Since 2004, I have volunteered much time and worked on paid research and training contracts for UNICEF on FGC, and currently am a PI on a research contract with UNICEF on child marriage. I am a partner in a large consortium carrying out a “Evidence to End FGM/C” research project in Africa, funded by the UK Department for International Development. These may be apparent conflicts of interest, but are not real ones, since I would defend against uninformed criticism the hypothesis I have developed over 20 years whether or not I am doing volunteer or paid work on FGC for the named agencies that were mistakenly accused in the article of wasting public funds.