Natural childbirth and “just so” stories

Henci Goer has finally responded to my critique of her smear of the Friedman curve. Did she address the fact that she completely misrepresented the history of the Friedman curve? No. Did she correct her mistakes about standard deviation? No. Did she acknowledged that she been utterly wrong in her statement of the purpose of the curve? No.

What did she do? She told a “just so” story. What’s a “just so” story? According to Wikipedia:

A just-so story, also called the ad hoc fallacy, is a term used in academic anthropology, biological sciences, social sciences, and philosophy. It describes an unverifiable and unfalsifiable narrative explanation for a cultural practice, a biological trait, or behavior of humans or other animals. The use of the term is an implicit criticism that reminds the hearer of the essentially fictional and unprovable nature of such an explanation. Such tales are common in folklore and mythology (where they are known as etiological myths — see etiology).

Here’s the tale that Goer told:

My daughter-in-law’s recent story was very much on my mind as I wrote my blog post. Her first baby, she was induced at 42 weeks for postdates. She hung up at 6 cm for many, many hours. Thanks to the watchful patience and excellent care by the staff at Kaiser Santa Clara–which included taking a break from the Pitocin for a shower and a rest (which allowed a restart at a lower dose), an epidural eventually, time to “labor down” before beginning pushing–and the knowledgeable assistance and support of her doula, my daughter-in-law gave birth spontaneously to an 8 lb 15 oz boy in the occiput posterior position…

The following explanation of the ad hoc fallacy shows that Goer’s story is a perfect example:

… [W]hen someone’s attempt to explain an event is effectively disputed or undermined … the speaker reaches for some way to salvage what he can. The result is an “explanation” which is not very coherent, does not really “explain” anything at all, and which has no testable consequences – even though to someone already inclined to believe it, it certainly looks valid.

Goer’s smear of the Friedman curve was blasted out of the water. She was shown to be wrong about the history of the curve, wrong about the purpose of the curve and wrong about the statistical analysis. In an effort to salvage what she could, she gave an “explanataion which is not very coherent, does not really “explain” anything at all, and which has no testable consequences.” And the best part? “To someone already inclined to believe it, it certainly looks valid.”

Telling her daughter-in-law’s story is like suggesting that people stop wearing seat belts because her daughter-in-law drove cross country without one and didn’t get hurt. It’s like recommending that women refuse breast biopsies because her friend ignored a lump for 3 years and it turned out to be benign. It’s no better than feeding your child a diet of Cheetos and Pepsi because your cousin did it and her child turned out fine.

Goer’s original discussion of the Friedman curve was wrong in virtually every particular: history, purpose and statistical analysis. She has nothing to say on those points, so she has attempted to salvage her post by telling a story and hopes that for those inclined to believe it, it will seem valid.

This is why celebrity NCB advocates refuse to appear in any forum where they can be questioned by doctors or scientists. Their “arguments” are eviscerated in short order and they are forced to fall back on “just so” stories. That might work for the readership of Science and Sensibility, but they’d be laughed from the podium at any meeting of medical or scientific professionals.


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