March 9, 2017
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Lifetime ran a short-lived television series during 2015 that focused on extreme natural birth activists who decided to give birth in extreme environments, far form any hospitals and often without properly trained medical personnel. These activists wrongly think that giving birth in a hospital is harmful and dangerous, but that giving birth in the wilderness of Alaska or in a windy plains near mountains is much better and safer (even though medical help might take at least 30 minutes to get there).
Although hailed by natural birth activists, the show only ran for a single season that consisted of six episodes in total. It was in many ways a perfect storm of anti-medicine pseudoscience and self-absorbed narcissism of privileged mothers who had no idea about the dangers that are potentially involved in giving birth. For instance, WHO puts the number of mothers who die during or shortly after pregnancy and childbirth to around 300 000 per year. Most of these occur in “low-resource settings” and likely could have been prevented. It is precisely these settings that many natural birth activists attempt to emulate.
Each episode has a common intro. Text appears on the screen explaining that the crushing majority of births in the United States occur in a hospital, but also that “Some women are choosing to have a very different experience. This shows document their journey.” A male voiceover lays out the point out the show by stating that “modern parents giving birth in the wilderness like their ancestors. No hospitals. No surgical intervention. No drugs. Just a choice. To return to the primal roots of humanity.” This show is a celebration to the ignorance involved in romanticizing nature and the past. Previous episodes giving birth in the wilderness of Alaska and the mountain plains of Utah. What happened in this episode?
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December 14, 2014
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During the past decade, a lot of skeptical activism online has involved topics such as vaccines, GMOs, and evolution. There are thousands of videos, articles and blog posts destroying creationist delusions about bacterial flagellum, the Cambrian radiation and transitional fossils, countering fear-mongering about biotech applications and explaining the benefits of vaccines. Yet some forms of widespread pseudoscience receive considerably less attention in the skeptical community. This posts looks closer at some such cases, possible reasons for why these have been neglected and why they should be given more attention.
The opposition to modern psychiatry takes various forms. Alternative medicine proponents think that psychiatric conditions are caused by fungal infection or chemtrails and can be cured with homeopathy, spices or organic potatoes. New age believers think that depression is caused by people attracting it to their lives, and therefore have themselves to blame. They usually think that everything can be cured with positive thinking. Sophisticated mysterians are often non-religious journalists who decry any scientific discussion of psychiatric conditions with accusations of “determinism” or “scientism”. They typically believe that science will never understand art, beauty or consciousness. Even people who are otherwise skeptical of pseudoscience have bought into anti-psychiatry, often displaying the common denialist tactics. There are also conspiracy lunatics who think that psychiatric medication brainwash people and that it is all a government ploy. Some scientologists think that psychiatrists kidnap, torture and kill their patients.
There are not so many skeptics that confront anti-psychiatry. Debunking Denialism has written a little over 20 critical posts refuting different aspects of anti-psychiatry. Steven Novella, Amy Tuteur and Harris Hall has written several detailed treatments. There are probably other skeptics that have covered it as well, but they have not gotten enough exposure. Despite this, it is essential to counter the actions of anti-psychiatry movements because psychiatric conditions affect so many people. According to WHO, depression is quickly becoming one of the biggest causes of disability in the world with around 350 million people directly affected. They and their loved ones are vulnerable to this kind of quackery and charlatans must not be allowed to exploit people.
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February 20, 2014
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Many scientific skeptics may recognize Mayim Bialik from hit TV-shows such as Blossom and The Big Bang Theory. In the latter, she plays the neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler who becomes the girlfriend of the physicist Sheldon Cooper. In real life, she has a PhD in a very similar field as Amy, namely neuroscience. One would think that this provides some protection against being subverted by irrational pseudoscience. However, Bialik is a notorious promoter of a wide range of different pseudosciences, including anti-GMO, anti-vaccine, alternative medicine, Waldorf schools and homebirth quacktivism.
In 2009, Bialik became a celebrity spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network (here is their description of holistic parenting). On their website, they promote the American anti-vaccine activist Barbara Loe Fischer and recommend homeopathy as an alternative treatment to post-partum depression. In a 2011 interview, Bialik explained that she is homeschooling her children and in a 2012 interview, sheconfessed to using the Waldorf “philosophy” to attain this goal (which includes not letting her children watch TV or see movies). In a 2009 interview, she admittedto being “a non-vaccinating family” and claimed that she based her decision on “research and discussions with our pediatrician”. In a 2012 poston her blog, she says that she does not want to discuss her beliefs about vaccines, but deploys the classic “too many, too soon” trope. David Gorski discusses her ideas about vaccines in additional details here. In a 2012 article on homebirth, she promoted a number of classic quacktivist beliefs despite the fact that homebirth causes considerable more deaths compared with giving birth in a hospital. She calls these facts “hysteria-inducing” stories and that it is “insulting to any woman’s intuition and intelligence”. In late 2012, she posted the followingon her official Facebook page: “California voters: the condoms you approved for sex workers to have to wear (which I voted for too)… maybe I’ll wear them when I eat my unlabeled genetically modified food. Sound good?”
In other words, being a neuroscientist does not, no pun intended, make you immune to pseudoscience.
Recently, American astrophysicist and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson decided to invite Bialik to his talk show StarTalk.
He claims that they will be discussing neuroscience. But why is Tyson inviting an anti-science activist such as Bialik? Why is he giving her a platform to spread her pseudoscientific quackery? Is Tyson unaware about her beliefs or does not care as long as he can sell tickets to the show? Clarification is badly needed at this point.
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