Quackery means never having to say you’re sorry


There are a lot of tips for differentiating peddlers of pseudoscience from real scientists. I’ve written about some of them myself (Six red flags you need to recognize to quack proof yourself).

But there’s a simple question you can ask that serves as a highly reliable shortcut. Does the website (or Facebook page) airbrush the owner’s mistruths and mistakes?

You can determine the answer to that question not by what you see, but by what you don’t see. Just like pictures of fashion models are airbrushed to remove any flaws and project an image of perfection, the websites of quacks are airbrushed to removed the author’s mistakes and to remove (and ban) anyone who questions the author’s claims.

Consider the recent incident with Aviva Romm, MD. In an episode of monumental hypocrisy, Romm issued a caution against shaming women who have C-sections in the midst of a 30 day Facebook rant on preventing unnecessary C-sections that only the day before had advised women to avoid associating with anyone who thought her C-section was acceptable. Romm piously declared:

Today I am making a departure from cesarean prevention to talk about SHAME prevention… Let’s talk about birth and shame. The fears of “failing” because of the pressures to go “au naturale” whether around birth, breastfeeding, or how we raise our kids. How we can better support each other to have the healthiest, safest, most empowering experiences possible?

She promptly got her head handed to her on a platter with a scathingly brilliant comment.

Romm comment 10-26-14

You’re taking a break from shaming women to talk about how we shouldn’t shame women. Wonderful! You want to prevent women from feeling like “failures”? How about stop vilifying a necessary and life-saving medical procedure. The easiest way to support women is to provide complete and accurate information without bias and allow them to make their own decisions about their health.

Your recent posts about not hearing “fearful things” about birth and trying to prevent cesareans with “traditional” birth practices not only encourages women to ignore valuable medical advice that can be vital in making a truly informed choice but also doesn’t disclose any actual information about these supposed traditional birthing means. In your anthropological study of “native” (how delightfully paternalistic) births did you not come across any statistics of maternal or perinatal mortality? Did you just not look for this information to avoid any uncomfortable cognitive dissonance? Or did you simply not want to disclose it?

You can prevent unnecessary medical procedures by education people at to their rights as a patient, the fact that the majority of healthcare workers come to work every day to do their absolute best, and that in the end there is no single correct way to birth or parent. Offer both sides and allow people to choose for themselves and leave it at that.

Romm should have offered an apology for her hypocrisy and henceforth vowed to scrutinize her own writing for subtle and not so subtle shaming strategies. Instead of acknowledging her mistake (and her insensitivity), however, Romm simply airbrushed it out of existence, erasing not merely the hypocritical post that counseled against shaming, but the entire 7 posts of the series thus far, and erasing any evidence that the series ever existed.

Just like Jan Tritten erased evidence of her involvement in the death of Gavin Michael.

Just like Jen Kamel erased the fact that she had boasted about the VBAC outcomes of her followers without realizing they were hideous.

Just like Hermine Hayes-Klein of Human Rights in Childbirth erased evidence questioning the organization’s response to their “forced episiotomy” video.

Quacks can never tolerate being shown to be wrong. That’s entirely different from tolerating being wrong. No sooner did she delete her post on shaming women who have C-sections, then Aviva Romm created a post suggesting that C-sections may raise autism risk, without bothering to include the authors’ caveat that their paper did NOT show that C-sections cause autism. I cannot believe that she is so innumerate that she did not recognize that the paper proved nothing, yet she posted it anyway. She is so not shaming you for having a C-section even if it did cause your child’s autism. Despicable!

Real scientists and doctors make mistakes and should acknowledge them and correct them when it is pointed out to them. Real scientists and doctors can and must tolerate public dissent, must allow their claims to be questioned and must respond to those questions. Natural childbirth and homebirth advocates, like quacks of all kinds, cannot tolerate dissent and create airbrushed websites and Facebook pages that make them seem omniscient and infallible. Quackery means never having to say your sorry.

When you encounter a natural childbirth or homebirth website gleaming with airbrushed perfection, all signs of dissent removed and anyone who could challenge the author banned, you can be certain that you are in the presence of quackery … and you should protect yourself accordingly.