I’m not terribly active on the “public” Internet. I have my blog, which I suspect is mostly read by my friends and a few seekers of Python knowledge. I belong to a forum here or comment on a favorite blog there. I use Facebook quite a bit to keep up with friends and pass things I’ve found among my social circle. I just don’t bother much with public discussions since they seem to devolve into nonsense and I just don’t see the point in playing that game. I don’t even allow comments on this blog since I don’t see the need to host other people’s idiocy or vitriol. About the only place you’d find me with any sort of regularity is reddit, but even that is sporadic.
I’m even a fairly quiet skeptic, preferring to share what I’m learning with those around me rather than engaging in public text-based shouting matches. The events of this past weekend started out that way: an old friend of mine from massage school, Sam, posted a link to Examiner.com that erroniously claimed that home birth was proven as safe as hospital birth. Since many medical studies are badly reported, I checked the article.
I immediately recognized the study from the University of BC in Canada. I’d already read it, and it had been similarly misrepresented elsewhere. It’s not that the study’s conclusions are false, it’s that they are narrow. Home birth has similar infant mortality rates only in Canada where a single type of certification exists: the Nurse Midwife. This is a college-educated position with clinic hours, lots of training, and a great deal of time spent doing both hospital and home births. They’re full-on nurses. That’s not the case in the US where we have several different types of midwives, some with surprisingly little training (and potentially zero clinic hours). The Skeptical OB is where I’d seen the study before, and she covers it well. The bottom line is that these lesser trained midwives have an infant mortality rate triple that of the highly trained Canadian midwives.
So it’s fair to say that the result isn’t intended to be assumed in the general case, right? I recognized the over-zealous rhetoric of someone who really wants to believe that all things natural are automatically better. The author on Examiner.com was calling herself the “natural parenting examiner”, so that’s to be expected. But it doesn’t excuse misreporting a study, especially since the original authors specifically warn against over-generalizing the result beyond its intended scope.
So I commented. I asked her to cite her sources (she had not linked, a clue that she might be getting her information third-hand). I provided a link to the Skeptical OB coverage. I was polite and brief.
But then curiosity got the best of me. Having spent a considerable amount of time reading all sides of various health issues, I suspected I was reading the work of another enthusiastic but careless advocate. So I clicked on her bio and found this:
Katie Drinkard is a self-proclaimed natural parenting guru who has done extensive research on natural pregnancy and parenting. Katie presents vital information in a personal manner while providing the latest research on natural parenting topics – ranging from birth through the childhood years.
Right. Well, that’s not exactly a stellar CV. Lack of formal training certainly doesn’t make one wrong (remember, I’m a software engineer commenting on health issues), but dropping words like “guru” has always unnerved me. I already suspected what I was going to find when I clicked on her other articles, but I had to be sure.
Naturally, one title that jumped out at me was “Swine Flu vaccine contains diseased flesh of African Monkeys”. No, I’m not kidding, she actually wrote this. Surely she was just being hyperbolic! Nope. Another predictive sense was tingling in my brain as I read this gem of a final paragraph:
Scientists create the Swine Flu vaccine (and other vaccines) by injecting monkeys with the virus and allowing the disease to take over. Later, the monkey is then killed and its diseased organs are used to make the ingredients of vaccines given to the public.
Oh, the stupid, it burns! I just knew this sort of wrong-headed nonsense could only come from a single source: Mike Adams at Natural News. Sure enough, in seconds I’d found his article making the same bogus claim.
What makes it bogus? In the process of seeking the “truth” in the text of a vaccine patent, Mr. Adams (not a doctor in any sense) inferred from the line “producing said virus using a cell line isolated from the kidney of an African Green Monkey” that there must exist a warehouse of angry, sick monkeys being fed into a meat grinder. Well, that’s not the case. Anyone who has spent more than an hour actually trying to understand vaccines will key on the words “cell line” and know that they’re referring to some laboratory-grade line of perpetually grown cells that can be used as a growth medium. Sure enough, again within seconds, I’d found that there is a widely used line named “Vero” that was isolated from African Green Monkey kidney epithelial cells way back in 1962.
So I made my way back to the Examiner.com article and assured the author that there was no monkey holocaust. I quickly pointed out how she was in error, and provided an explanation of cell lines and how they’re used. Four or five sentences and I was done.
A day later, both of my comments were gone. They appear to have been deleted. Granted, there is no way I can prove this to anyone since I don’t have access to the site’s history or databases. I can, however, say that Ms. Drinkard did update her birthing post using the link I provided. I suppose that’s something, but she didn’t correct or clarify anything.