Journalist Jennifer Block’s evidence double standard

double standard

The Twitterverse has been roiled by Scientific American’s decision to publish a hatchet piece on gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter. The piece, though written by a journalist, Jennifer Block, is hardly journalism. It is a blatantly ad hominem attack by an author whose most recent book is in direct competition with Dr. Gunter’s far more successful book.

Dr. Gunter’s book, The Vagina Bible is currently at #3002 on the Amazon Best Sellers List while Block’s book is #66,243. Block’s jealousy is both palpable and ugly.

Block: doctors are arrogant if they don’t follow the scientific evidence on episiotomies & they’re also arrogant when they do follow the scientific evidence on vaginal steaming.

Here’s how Block chose to treat the death of one of Dr. Gunter’s sons:

Gunter, who has personal experience performing abortions and losing her own very premature baby, also spends a lot of Twitter time nimbly smacking down fetal rights trolls.

That’s just gratuitous cruelty.

Doctors and scientists have been flocking to Gunter’s defense because she is widely admired and respected. They’ve been canceling their subscriptions to Scientific American not merely because Gunter was never even interviewed for the hit piece but because, at its core, Block is defending the marketing of pseudoscience.

I suspect there’s an additional reason why many doctors and scientists are outraged by Block’s piece. She deploys the evidence double standard so beloved of pseudoscience entrepreneurs.

Like most proponents of pseudoscience, Block has a deeply fraught relationship with scientific evidence. On the one hand, in her books and articles she invokes the imprimatur of science evidence to criticize physicians.

When criticizing routine episiotomy, electronic fetal monitoring or high Cesarean rates, Block bitterly castigates doctors who don’t follow the latest scientific evidence and implies that they are arrogant for letting their personal experience determine the care they offer.

But when scientific evidence undermines her claims, she insists that scientific evidence can be ignored in favor of anecdotes. Defending the bizarre, potentially harmful practice of “vaginal steaming” Block writes:

…There are, anecdotally, many women healing from sexual violence and cancer treatments, who find that steaming helped them regain sensation. Are you really going to argue with them? Isn’t that called gaslighting?

When Gunter, a gynecology expert, advises that the scientific evidence shows it doesn’t work, couldn’t possibly do what is claimed for it and can cause injuries, Block accuses her and other doctors of … arrogance, acting like Gods.

So let me see if I get this straight. According to Block, doctors are arrogant if they don’t follow the scientific evidence on episiotomies, fetal monitoring and C-sections rates, but they’re also arrogant when they do follow the scientific evidence on vaginal steaming?

That’s the evidence double standard.

As Edzard Ernst MD, PhD, a prominent critic of pseudoscience in medicine (complementary and alternative medicine or CAM) has noted: “ Rigorous proof, it seems, is the standard for conventional health care .. “


…unbiased studies are deemed to be not applicable to CAM…

Science has thus become a tool not for testing (its true purpose) but for proving that one’s preconceived ideas were correct.

And when it doesn’t, as in the case of vaginal steaming, it can simply be ignored in favor of anecdotes.

If that weren’t bad enough, Block thoroughly misrepresents feminism.

[Gunter] often begins a tweet: “I am a board certified OB/GYN and …”

This is exactly the kind of doctor-as-god attitude the feminist health movement fought to reform.

Actually it’s not. I would know, since unlike Block, I was there. The point of having more women enter medicine was not to make doctors disavow their own expertise, it was to ensure that experts were more representative of the patients they care for and more attuned to the concerns of those patients.

Can doctors be arrogant? Absolutely! Arrogance is wrong and it harms patients. But expertise is not arrogance and only those who are competing with that expertise and losing would insist that it was.

Indeed, there is something deeply misogynistic about berating a woman for proudly declaring her expertise. It reflect a traditionalist view of women as docile, self-effacing and eager to please, the opposite of the characteristics we should be modeling for the next generation of women.

Is a woman CEO arrogant for directing her subordinates to undertake the tasks she delegates?


Is a woman judge arrogant for sending criminals to jail?

Of course not!

So how can a board certified OB-GYN be labeled arrogant for telling women what the scientific evidence shows?

She can’t and to insist otherwise isn’t merely an evidence double standard, it’s a misogynist double standard.