A field guide to natural childbirth quacktivists


A quacktivist is a person who proselytizes demonstrably false medical claims with cult-like intensity. The anti-vax folks are quacktivists by definition. Jenny McCarthy is a quacktivist and so is Joe Mercola. Andrew Wakefield is a quacktivist extraordinaire.

Natural childbirth is promoted by its own band of quactivist. There are entire organizations devoted to natural childbirth quactivism like Lamaze and ICAN (the International Cesarean Awareness Network).

How do you recognize quacktivists?

Here are a few helpful hints:

1. The natural habitat of a quacktivist is her own blog.

2. Quacktivists almost never stray outside their natural habitat because they are defenseless in the presence of scientific evidence. They never go to mainstream conferences and they certainly don’t attend scientific meetings because quacktivism is threatened by science

3. Quacktivists invite visitors to their natural habitats, but protect themselves from potentially devastating facts by deleting and banning any commentors who dare to question the quacktivist cult.

4. Quacktivists are relentless self promoters. Live blogging your own homebirth is a classic quacktivist move.

5. Ignorance is the main nutrition source for quacktivists. They generally lack even the most basic information on science, statistics, immunology or obstetrics.

6. Quacktivists love “bibliography salad.” That’s a mishmash of scientific citations (often copied from a website or book) that the quacktivist has never read, couldn’t understand if she did read it, and doesn’t say what she thinks it says.

7. Quacktivists have a highly evolved defense mechanism. They are evidence-resistant. Show quacktivists that vaccines have dramatically reduced death and disease and they dismiss it out of hand. Explain and demonstrate that death is a natural part of childbirth and natural childbirth quacktivists question your sources. Point out that their arguments are riddled with logical fallacies and quacktivists have no idea what you are talking about.

8. Quacktivists proselytize. Professional quacktivists proselytize because that’s how they make money. They sell books, sell advertising on their websites, solicit free products in exchange for favorable reviews, and sell bogus “remedies.”

9. Natural childbirth quacktivists are very needy. They hold “conferences” and “work shops” that are nothing more than echo chambers because they need to have their beliefs reinforced by others and cannot tolerate questioning or disagreement.

10. Natural childbirth quacktivists have a further defining feature. They spend an inordinate amount of time accusing those who don’t agree with them of being mean. That’s not surprisingly, really, when you consider that self-glorification is an intrinsic part of quacktivism of all kinds. Quacktivists believe they are in possession of special knowledge that is being hidden by grand conspiracies involving virtually everyone else on the planet.

How do the rest of us protect ourselves against quacktivists?

The best defense is knowledge, the real kind that is a product of college and graduate education, not the pseudo-knowledge found on websites and beloved of every quacktivist. Keep an eye open for the defining signs of quacktivism. Does the “expert” refuse to leave her website except to go to “conferences” of like minded believers? Does she delete comments because they challenge her claims? Does she offer “bibliography salad” to support her claims? Does she insist that anyone who disagrees with her is attacking her? If the answer to these question is “yes,” you know you are dealing with a quacktivist.


Adapted from a piece that first appeared in April 2011.