Do you know what lactivism and creationism have in common?

16501989 - abstract word cloud for falsifiability with related tags and terms

I’ve been quoted extensively in the mainstream media about breastfeeding.

In nearly every case I mention that I breastfed four children relatively easily and I (and they) enjoyed it. Nonetheless I caution that the benefits of breastfeeding have been grossly exaggerated and that what passes for breastfeeding “science” is generally based on data that is weak, conflicting and plagued by confounding variables that render the conclusions meaningless.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]There is no possibility that breastfeeding “science” will ever show that breast is not best; and that means it isn’t science at all.[/pullquote]

Inevitably commenters complain that I am ignoring the science, but what they don’t realize is that lactivist “science” shares a very important trait with major forms of pseudoscience. Just like creation “science,” the central tenet of lactivist “science” is considered unfalsifiable.

Why is that important?

Science always starts with a hypothesis and then tests it to see if it is true. The possibility always exists that the hypothesis is false. The conclusion of scientific testing is drawn from data gathered in the course of experiments and studies. It is not known a priori.

Creationism, the belief that the universe was created by an intelligent designer, is considered unfalsifiable by its adherents. They start with the conclusion that a Creator was necessary for our current existence and then arrange any experimental data to lead to that conclusion, carefully editing the data so that anything that could falsify the conclusion is excluded.

For creationists, there is no possibility that the conclusion is wrong since they start with the conclusion and, working backwards, do whatever is necessary to arrive at it. There is no possibility that creation “science” will ever conclude that creationism is false and that means that creationism is not science.

Lactivist breastfeeding “science” also starts with a conclusion and works backward to justify it. The central tenet of breastfeeding “science” is that breast is best, despite the copious scientific evidence that in many cases it is not best at all and may even be deadly. Nonetheless, all data is manipulated until it can be forced to fit the predetermined conclusion.

When data is conflicting, as it often is in lactivist breastfeeding research, the data that don’t show breast is best is either excluded or dismissed out of hand. Confounding variables like maternal education and socio-economic status aren’t removed by correction so that the benefits to children that come from being wealthy and having access to better health insurance can be erroneously ascribed to breastfeeding. Startling facts about breastfeeding — the historically high mortality rates of exclusively breastfed infants prior to the 20th century and that fact countries with the highest contemporary breastfeeding rates have the highest mortality rates — are simply ignored. There is no possibility that lactivist breastfeeding “science” will ever show that breast is not best; and that means it isn’t science at all.

But how is it possible that breast isn’t necessarily best?

It’s possible for the exact same reason that “natural immunity,” so beloved of anti-vaccine advocates, isn’t best. Technology can do better and there’s a massive amount of evidence to support the fact that it actually DOES better than nature. Natural is not best.

Just because something is natural doesn’t make it better:

Nearsightedness is entirely natural but it is not better than vision corrected with glasses or contacts.

Naturally acquired immunity is by definition entirely natural but cannot stave off death from vaccine preventable diseases in a substantial number of cases. Survivors of various plagues through the ages could have boasted of their naturally acquired immunity but there were often very few other people left to appreciate it since they had died before naturally acquired immunity could save them. Most of them could have been saved by vaccine acquired immunity.

Breastfeeding is entirely natural but that doesn’t make it better than formula. Women can naturally fail to produce enough breastmilk and their babies can naturally die as a result. It is entirely possible that an infant formula could be devised that is actually superior to breastmilk in the same way that vaccines are superior to natural immunity. When you know more about death and disease, you can defeat entirely natural causes of death.

Real science tells us that the benefits of breastfeeding for term infants in the US are trivial. Breastmilk is neither magical nor mysterious just as immunity is neither magical or mysterious. We can mimic it and we can even improve upon it.

But lactivist breastfeeding “science,” like Creation “science,” won’t admit that possibility. That’s why neither are science at all.