The Daily Beast, homebirth, and false journalistic “balance”


Imagine if you read the following in a major mainstream publication:

Take, for instance, the two studies on earth geology that came out this week.

The first, from The Young Earth Society confirmed “there is overwhelming evidence that the earth is only 6,000 years old.”

The next came in the form of an abstract in the journal Nature. Researchers reported the discovery of ancient rocks dating to more than a billion years ago, more than 100X older than The Young Earth Society claimed could exist.

Could both be true?

In a word: NO!

How would we determine which was true? We would READ THEM, analyze them and determine if the claims made by the authors could be justified by the data presented in the paper. It would be inappropriate for a mainstream media reporter to simply throw up her hands and pretend that both papers are equally valid.

Yet that’s just what Brandy Zadrozny did, writing about homebirth in The Daily Beast:

Take, for instance, the two studies on home birth that came out this week.

The first, from the Midwives Alliance of North America(MANA) confirmed “the safety and overwhelmingly positive health benefits for low-risk mothers and babies who choose to birth at home with a midwife.”

The next came in the form of an abstract from researchers at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Doctors there reported that babies born at home to midwives have four times the risk of neonatal deaths than those delivered in the hospital by midwives. The risk jumps sevenfold for a first-time mother and tenfold in pregnancies over 41 weeks in duration.

Could both be true?

NO, both cannot be true and presenting them as if both could be true is known as false journalistic balance.

According to Wikipedia:

False balance, also referred to as false equivalence, is a real or perceived media bias, where journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence actually supports…

That’s certainly what’s happening in The Daily Beast article, as the reporter might have learned had she bothered to actually read the papers in question.

Had Zadrozny read the paper from the Midwives Alliance of North America, she would have found that the midwives’ own data shows that homebirth increases the risk of perinatal death by an astronomical 450%.

Homebirth midwives reported a death rate of 2.06/1000, while the CDC death rate for term pregnancies in low risk white women during the same time period was 0.38. The midwives’ own data shows that homebirth has a 5.5X higher risk of death.

The Grunebaum study mentioned by Zadrozny found that homebirth increases the risk of death by a factor of 4.2, fairly close. The data in both papers actually agrees and the crucial difference between the papers is that Melissa Cheyney and her co-authors LIED about what their own data showed.

Zadrozny rewards Cheyney and colleagues for lying by doing precisely what MANA hoped reporters would do: read the press releases and ignore the actual scientific papers.

The reality, though, is that BOTH papers show that homebirth increases the risk of death.

Zadrozny helpfully demonstrates what is wrong with science journalism in 2014. Reporters simply read and republish press releases, not the actual scientific papers. As such, they have been the tools of unscrupulous researchers like Cheyney and the executives of MANA.

Zadrozny probably thinks she has performed a journalistic service, but instead she was used to disseminate propaganda … and the worst part about it is she doesn’t appear to have a clue.