No, you are not entitled to your own opinion about the safety of homebirth … or vaccines … or detoxes, etc. etc. etc.


Here at The Skeptical OB, we are treated to a steady stream of natural childbirth, homebirth and breastfeeding advocates parachuting in to “educate” everyone else. Sadly for them, they usually end by flouncing off after only a day or two. It’s almost as if they read Skeptico’s The Woo Handbook and are putting its principles into practice [with my comments in brackets]:

  • Start by telling skeptics you want to “educate them on the facts”…
  • When the skeptic comes back with demands for “evidence” (they love that word) for your claims, you should say the skeptic is being “defensive”. Alternatively you could try a passive aggressive approach and say the skeptic is “attacking”…
  • Remember, your personal experience is always more valid than their scientific studies (or your lack of them). Anecdotes will convince more people you’re right than any number of “studies” …
  • Question the skeptic’s experience or qualifications… [i.e. point out that Dr. Amy is retired as if this is a big secret that isn’t featured in the sidebar of the blog] …
  • Question the motives of everyone [except for the people who agree with you] …
  • After the debate has been going for a while you should say you’ve provided studies to support your position, even though you haven’t. [Or, alternatively, insist that you “don’t have time” to provide citations for the “many” studies that support your position]
  • … [W]hen you’ve used up all the above tactics, say you’re not going to waste any more time with the skeptics you’ve been debating because they’re too sad, stupid, closed-minded, ______ (insert other flaw the skeptic has) to understand your brilliant arguments…

Finally, when all else fails, insist that you are entitled to your own opinion.

Except that you are not. As Philosophy Professor Patrick Stokes explains:

You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.


The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

What’s an opinion?

Plato distinguished between opinion or common belief (doxa) and certain knowledge, and that’s still a workable distinction today: unlike “1+1=2” or “there are no square circles,” an opinion has a degree of subjectivity and uncertainty to it. But “opinion” ranges from tastes or preferences, through views about questions that concern most people such as prudence or politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.

You can’t really argue about the first kind of opinion. I’d be silly to insist that you’re wrong to think strawberry ice cream is better than chocolate. The problem is that sometimes we implicitly seem to take opinions of the second and even the third sort to be unarguable in the way questions of taste are. Perhaps that’s one reason (no doubt there are others) why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views “respected.”

Here’s the money quote:

If “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion” just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial. No one can stop you saying that vaccines cause autism, no matter how many times that claim has been disproven.

But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false. And this too is a distinction that tends to get blurred.

What does that mean for those who parachute in to “educate” us about homebirth, or any other aspect of pseudoscience?

It means that while you are entitled to have whatever beliefs you wish about these subjects, but you aren’t entitled to have your beliefs taken as serious candidates for discussion unless you can defend them logically and with citations to appropriate scientific papers (papers that you have actually read and understood).

Otherwise, you might as well skip directly to Skeptico’s last principle:

Announce that you’re not going to waste any more time with the commentors on The Skeptical OB because they’re too sad, stupid, closed-minded, ______ (insert other flaw the skeptic has) to understand your brilliant arguments

Be sure to stick the flounce and don’t be tempted to come back within the hour to keep making the same absurd “arguments” again.