Illogical lactivist arguments

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Lactivists seem to have a lot of difficulty with basic reading comprehension. No matter how firmly I write — no matter how blunt I am, no matter how small and simple the words I use:

“I believe X.”

lactivists routinely respond with:

“So what you’re saying is Y.”

No, if I wanted to say Y, I would say it and I didn’t say it.

Part of the problem is that lactivists love the strawman fallacy:

You misrepresented someone’s argument to make it easier to attack.
By exaggerating, misrepresenting, or just completely fabricating someone’s argument, it’s much easier to present your own position as being reasonable, but this kind of dishonesty serves to undermine honest rational debate.

It’s very difficult to rebut most of the arguments I make about breastfeeding. That’s why lactation professionals don’t even bother to try. Lay lactivists strenuously attempt to misrepresent my arguments instead since it is easier to rebut the misrepresentations.

If p then q; if not q then not p.

But the bigger problem for most lay lactivists is that they don’t understand basic logic. They don’t understand how conditional statements, (if p then q), are constructed and what they mean.

The most common conditional statement I make, the one that undergirds most of what I write about breastfeeding is this:

IF breastfeeding had the benefits claimed for it (If p)

THEN we should see a drop in term infant mortality, severe morbidity and healthcare costs when breastfeeding rates rise. (then q).

According to the rules of basic logic, if the conditional statement (if p then q) is true the contrapositive (if not q then not p) is also true.

The contrapositive is this:

IF we don’t see a drop in term infant mortality, severe morbidity and healthcare costs when breastfeeding rates rise (Not q)

THEN breastfeeding doesn’t have the benefits claimed for it. (then not p).

It’s pretty simple: If p then q. If not q then not p.

It’s basic logic.

Instead of responding to the straightforward argument, lactivists prefer bizarrely illogical claims.

1. You hate p! (You hate breastfeeding!) I don’t, but even if I did, that doesn’t change the truth of the underlying statements.

2. Corporations profit from r! (Corporations profit from formula!) Maybe so, but r has nothing to do with if not q then not p. The fact that companies profit from formula does not change the fact that if the predicted benefits of breastfeeding don’t occur, then breastfeeding doesn’t have those benefits.

3. You’re being paid by the folks from r! (You are being paid by formula companies!) This is just a variation of 2. I’m not being paid by anyone, but even if I were, that would not change the fundamentals of basic logic: if p then q; if not q then not p.

4. You want everyone to use r! (You want everyone to formula feed). This is yet another variation of 2. It’s particularly illogical. Why should I care? I breastfed my four children. It also tells us nothing about p and q.

5. But 100% of women aren’t engaged in p! (But not all women breastfeed!). Makes no difference. If p then q does not require a specific proportion of people to be engaged in p.

6. But the World Health Organization says p always leads to q! (But the WHO says breastfeeding has lots of important benefits!) Basic logic is not dependent on authorities and can’t be changed by the pronouncements of authorities.

7. But I love p! (But I love breastfeeding!) Maybe so and perhaps p is a significant source of self-esteem because you believe if p then q. But that doesn’t change the rules of basic logic, either.

The bottom line is pretty simple: if p then q; if not q then not p. If we can’t find the benefits claimed for breastfeeding, it doesn’t have those benefits.

If you want to rebut my arguments, you need to find evidence that the predicted benefits of breastfeeding actually occur when breastfeeding rates rise in large populations.

If you wail that I hate breastfeeding or that the WHO claims breastfeeding has benefits, or that I must be on the take from formula companies you haven’t merely failed to rebut my argument, you’ve failed to understand basic logic.

  • Luke Jones

    “IF breastfeeding had the benefits claimed for it
    THEN we should see a drop in term infant mortality, severe morbidity and healthcare costs when breastfeeding rates rise.”

    UNLESS the health of the formula feeding population is falling with more weight in the average, so that the benefits of breastfeeding are not observed by broad population samples.

    What are the numbers for infant mortality, morbidity and healthcare in compared breastfed vs formula fed populations?

    • rational thinker

      Countries with the highest breastfeeding rates are also the countries with the highest term infant mortality rates. If breastfeeding is so great how do you explain this?

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Well, my answer is simple: the benefits breastfeeding or not is not significant compared to all the other issues that they have to deal with.

        Not sure if Luke Jones will appreciate that answer, of course.

        • rational thinker

          Thats a great answer because it is true. Children care more that their parents love an accept them than how they were fed as babies. Most of them never even ask about it.

  • fiftyfifty1

    Huh? I am having trouble understanding this. I have never taken logic, but aren’t there 3 letters here, not 2?
    IF breastfeeding (p)
    THEN health benefits (q)
    IF health benefits (q)
    THEN drop in term infant mortality, severe morbidity and healthcare costs measured in the population (z).

    It seems to me that IF p, THEN q could be true while IF q, THEN z could simultaneously be false due to any number of circumstances. But IF q, THEN z being false does not make IF p, THEN q become false.

    An example I can think of would be:
    IF condom use (p), THEN less syphilis (q).
    IF less syphilis(q), then drop in STD-caused mortality, morbidity and healthcare costs measured in the population.

    The first statement is true. Condom use DOES lessen syphilis. But the second statement is not true due to a number of complicated circumstances in our country (drug resistant strains, other serious and expensive STI’s, increases in other risk factors.)

    The problem I see with lactivism is NOT that we have failed to see population wide health improvements or health savings (healthcare costs are mounting and continue to mount for a myriad of complicated reasons.) My problem with lactivism is that *on an individual basis we see no benefit* for a term infant. This is why I do NOT push breastfeeding, while I DO push condoms.

    • Mel

      Hmmm. I see what you are getting at – but I’d make a small change.

      I would make the starting statement of lactivism “If breastfeeding (p), then decreased reportable infant illnesses (q). If decreased reportable infant illnesses (q), then decreased population level illnesses (z).”

      I would make that change because “less syphilis” is quantifiable at location or population level where “infant health benefit” is not, but “decreased reportable infant illnesses” is.

      The larger point, I think, is that the conditional statement for breastfeeding falls apart at ‘if p, then q’ fails while the conditional statement for “if p, then q” holds for syphilis prevention.

      That’s why condom use promotion works at achieving a public health goal – and breastfeeding doesn’t. Doubly so when the conditional “if EBF, then increased risk of neonatal morbidity and mortality” holds….

    • Banrion

      What health benefits are you measuring? Drops in infant mortality and severe morbidity are measurements of health benefit and healthcare costs are measurements of economic benefit/deficit.