Declining Sperm and The New York Times

By Alice Shabecoff

Declining sperm count?  Forget about it, declares the Science section of The New York Times.

Until this news blast, a great barrage of scientific studies, mostly from the U.S. and Denmark, had warned about a broad pattern of male reproductive troubles.  Studies concluded that sperm counts fell by nearly half between 1938 and 1990.  Other data tracked a worldwide decline in the ratio of male to female births since 1950.  Boys have increasingly been found to suffer from a complex of genital abnormalities, from a deformity of the penis to undersize and undescended testicles, as well as rising rates of testicular cancer.  Tests have shown lower sperm quality in the agricultural Midwest.   Couples are experiencing more and more trouble conceiving.

Scientists have repeatedly suggested that these troubles arise from the sharp rise over the past two generations of environmental toxins that saturate our everyday lives, especially those chemicals that disrupt our hormones (generally called “endocrine disruptors”), from pesticides on our strawberries to BPA (bisphenol-A) in our baby bottles.

Yet, in June this year, as the NY Times section reported, Danish researchers’ data appeared on a Danish website showing no evidence of sperm count decline during the past 15 years.

Seizing upon this data, one media outlet to the next, and one industry spokesperson to the other, have declared, ‘AHAH, we told you, there’s nothing wrong with pesticides or BPA or other such chemicals.’

But wait.  The new data did not contradict the fact that sperm counts are low.  Indeed, the data confirms very low sperm counts in young Danish men, so low that many are likely to have impaired fecundity.  The data just inferred that, perhaps, the count is not falling further.  As Dr. Shanna Swan, one of the leading U.S. researchers in this field points out, “one would not expect any trend to continue indefinitely (particularly something so critical for species survival). Of course they must level off at some point.”  And, as Dr John Peterson Myers, founder of Environmental Health Science, adds, “Public health measures were implemented in Denmark during those past years in response to the poor condition of Danish sperm” –another potential clue to why there was no further decline.

Furthermore, the material that was published on the web is not a report at all.  It is, rather, a leaking of some data from a study of Danish military recruits, started in 1991 and still in progress.

The data cannot be used to refute changes that took place before the Danes began studying these young men.  These data also do not refute the fact that there are dramatic differences in sperm count from one region to another, nor the prevailing hypothesis is that this geographic variation is highly likely the result of an environmental component or the finding that male children increasingly suffer from a web of interrelated problems afflicting their reproductive tract.

The section carrying this misleading article is the same NY Times Science section that, in 2007, proclaimed Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, to be “a hodgepodge of science and junk science, dubious statistics and anecdotes.”

In witnessing this sham debate, we are left to wonder: Don’t our children have the right to science that is not influenced by vested interests or ideology?



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Andre Yokers
Andre Yokers2 years ago

Yes, another reason to work towards a toxin free environment!

Michael H.
Mike H.2 years ago

thank you

Michele V.
Michele V.3 years ago

Decrease in population?? Too bad, so sad!! Not! Yippee!

K s Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Mary Ann B.
Mary Ann B.4 years ago

Humankind is in danger of disappearing all together (low sperm counts being the tip of the iceberg) - and unfortunately we are the authors of our own demise. The very same poisons, which we have released into our world, that cause lower sperm count also affect all of us. Our huge growth in technology and the like has come at the expense of our understanding of Nature, and our spirituality.
We should make practical amends to Mother Gaia and our future descendants before we too become an extinct species like so many others have done.

Lisa B.
Elizabeth B.4 years ago

Statistics can always be manipulated to show the "proof" of the experimenter.

Lupe G.
Lupe G.4 years ago

Wow; I see people got really bothered by this article!
I know the NYT tends to be a better source of information but even still, I have met sa few employed by our government & have been made aware of plans which we could never have imagined to be anything more than the stuff movies are made of. We also know that the government will sensor our scientists & valuable data for "the greater good" of the nation, so to some degree, I tend to believe there is more to this story than the NYT has been informed on. I personally met a few scientists that worked on the human genome project & they too expressed concern for the decline in sperm count. Cancer is on the rise & the debates range between longer life expectancy to chemical exposure. We cannot be certain. I personally believe that sperm count is down & it does have ties to government meddling. Gosh, big corps. accross seas have been giving women of child-bearing age birth control without their knowledge by either telling them they are taking free vitamins or that they are vaccines. Some admitted that government offered to provide the birth control to keep competing market population down.

Patricia G.
Patricia G.4 years ago


John D.
John Dumas4 years ago

No, we can not have any science that does not support global income equality. Ozone, Nuclear winter, acid rain, global warming, climate change all serve to bring the high standard of living in industrialized countries more in line with 3rd world countries, therefor they are acceptable science.

Ameer T.
Ameer T.4 years ago

some of you may oppose this on the grounds of conspiracy theory but some radical steps were taken at different times all over the world to curb the growth of population. Steps taken to control population were injecting the masses with chemical agents via vaccines in Africa, mixing these in the bread and salt in india etc.

Pesticides may have a part to play, but i am certain that governements have an active part in it as well.