Jennifer Margulis tries to manipulate Amazon reviews of her book

Margulis Amazon

What’s the difference between a journalist and a hack?

A journalist tries to address substantive criticism of her claims. A hack tries to silence her critics.

You see this over and over again in the world of natural childbirth advocacy. Virtually every natural childbirth website deletes posts that question the received wisdom and bans people who dare to offer scientific evidence that contradicts NCB claims. Partly it is because NCB advocates have an insatiable need for validation of both their personal choices and their preferred view of themselves as incisive thinkers who can’t be fooled by corporate conspiracies. Partly because they recognize that they aren’t equipped to address criticism; they have absolutely no idea of what the scientific evidence shows since they never read it.

Jennifer Margulis wrote an astoundingly crappy and irresponsible book, and she’s being called on it.

As Annie Murphy Paul wrote in the NYTimes:

Inaccurate or inflammatory statements are repeatedly reproduced without adequate substantiation or comment from the other side… Margulis’s treatment of scientific evidence is similarly unbalanced… [U]ltrasound exams of pregnant women may be responsible for rising rates of autism among their children, according to “a commentator in an online article.” This anonymous individual has “used ultrasonic cleaners to clean surgical instruments (and jewelry),” which apparently qualifies him or her to offer an opinion on how the vibration of ultrasound waves may be causing the developmental disorder: “Perhaps this vibration could knock little weak spots in myelin sheeting of nerves or such, I don’t know.”

Amy Wong of the Oregonian offered an equally cutting review:

…Margulis builds her argument mostly on individual parents’ anecdotes, without providing context for whether they represent common experiences. Many of the anecdotes seem to have been selected purely for their shock value. And she frequently describes in detail how mothers suffered at the hands of doctors or nurses apparently without having sought out the doctors or nurses for verification, comment or context. This is not journalism.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Margulis were stung by these reviews, but the appropriate response is to provide the scientific evidence to support her claims, something which she has not done (and possibly believes that she cannot do).

Margulis responds on her Facebook page with this bit of self-serving drivel:

Margulis Silent Spring

Comparing her book to Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring? Now that’s funny!

But Margulis has gone further, advising her supporters to manipulate Amazon reviews of her book as demonstrated by the Facebook post at the top of this piece. Margulis is asking her supporters to bury unfavorable reviews so that people browsing Amazon will not be able to find them. I can’t imagine that Amazon would be happy with this attempt at manipulation. Morever, I suspect that the folks at Brandeis’ Shuster Center for Investigative Journalism would take a dim view anyone on its staff responding to substantive criticism in this way.

I’m surprised. Anyone who writes a book as misleading and irresponsible as Margulis’ book isn’t likely to be able to defend her claims against those who present actual scientific evidence, but this response puts her journalistic integrity into question. I would have thought she knew better.