In my previous post i set the stage, as i see it, for the contemporary home birth debate, which for all its bluster orbits around only a few key disagreements. These appear to be whether (1) planning for home versus hospital delivery and (2) certified nurse-midwifery versus certified professional midwifery matter to the safety of the birth process.
Disclaimer: If you’re looking for advice, go somewhere else.
perinatal and neonatal mortality
To give context to these contentions, and to get a feel for the kind of research they rely upon, let’s review some of the most widely-cited studies that deal with the question of fetus/infant mortality. (The following four studies are illustrative of the sources of disagreement between home and hospital birth advocates, but as a sample they should not be taken as representative of the broader literature.) Read more…
That’s four for four, unless i’m forgetting one. I wouldn’t've published this (i really intended it for the Editorial Board themselves), but perhaps there’s value in its publication i just don’t see (or perhaps a publisher is ill-advised to pass up any opportunity to let atheists look silly).
I was disgusted by the editorial “GOP candidate E.W. Jackson doesn’t speak for all Virginians of faith.” (24 May 2013) The editorial downplays as “fair enough” some of the most overt bigotry by any recent candidate for Virginia office, as though Jackson’s faith-which reaps him votes-absolves him of wrongdoing and of any expectation of an apology.
Yet it expects him to apologize to other Christians for speaking in their name! Evidently Christians are the true victims of Christian homophobia.
Atheists are routinely accused of paving the way for Stalinism. That’s an absurd accusation, but i certainly don’t mind condemning church-burnings (not to mention mass executions of Christians) when someone imagines i would support them. Nor do i pretend that these acts victimized me or other atheists.
Every decent Christian has the option of leaving the church and renouncing the label if they are unwilling to defend it from this kind of abuse. It’s on them if they do neither.
I kept my own structure for the blog this time, and decided my own title, since the Roanoke Times provided one perhaps best-suited to helping readers miss the point.
My sister asked me some unexpectedly provocative questions recently: When it comes to giving birth, what do i think about “natural” techniques like water birth and involving fewer interventions? or of home deliveries as an alternative to hospital deliveries? or of midwifery?
I’ve learned to be skeptical of any medical product or procedure that presents itself as “natural”, or as an alternative to an established convention. To the extent that we can use products produced in ways that are less destabilizing to ecosystems or more compatible with our bodily configurations and processes, “natural” medicine sounds great. Unfortunately, “natural” products and procedures are typically better described as “unsubstantiated” or “unregulated”. Meanwhile, the hype around alternative medicine seems to be premised more on disillusionment with establishment medicine than on any successes by its challengers.
On midwifery generally, i had only limited exposure, but enough to make me cautious.
So, my biases acknowledged, i dove into the literature…and some of the conclusions i came to surprised me. So, let’s get to it.*
Movement rationalism has lately been characterized by several archetypical and high-profile manifestations of the Dunning–Kruger effect*, as widely renowned scientists, skeptics, and atheists have slipped in succession into scientistic or proto-philosophical defenses of logically and empirically indefensible assertions or positions. Some notable examples:
- When Jeffrey Epstein‘s plea deal over allegations of soliciting prostituting minors—itself a privilege of political connectedness—was challenged by his victims’ attorneys, Lawrence Krauss came to his defense with a fairly obvious abuse of scientific language. In short, Krauss professed to “always judge things on empirical evidence” immediately before confusing empirical evidence with personal experience, relationships, and trust (among the most widely-recognized sources of bias in movement skepticism).
- When Rebecca Watson detailed her experience with (a specific example of) contemporary systemic sexism, Richard Dawkins chimed in to assert that this variety of sexism is unworthy of scrutiny and redress, despite having no relevant background in sociology or feminism. (See also: Michael Shermer.) In a follow-up comment he bemoaned the weak case and foul language of his objectors, though he seems never to have responded to the nine letters tailored specifically (and cordially) to him.
- Sam Harris has developed something of a reputation for pseudophilosophy. This came to a head a little bit back as he shrugged off expert refutation of his defense of racial profiling by Bruce Schneier. Meanwhile, his defense of torture has gradually come to be seen as minimally-contemplative contrarianism, which he arguably maintains by conflating its philosophically literate criticisms with the mainstream progressive onslaught.
- Michael Shermer continues to defend his libertarian political ideology and his broader (also libertarian) view of morality on scientific grounds, errors in judgment in disciplines outside his expertise on which he has been called out multiple times, most recently (and publicly) by Massimo Pigliucci.
Beyond (what may admittedly be a pop-science overgeneralization of) Dunning–Kruger—ignorance of the main topic coupled with proportionately undue self-assuredness—these incidents share context that strikes me as at least equally important for movement rationalism. I see three important aspects to this context Read more…
Before i delve further into the misconferral of authority by antifluoridationists, an i’d like to make point about scientific consensus that i neglected in my previous post. It is easy to think of scientific knowledge as essentially static, with the occasional fact or theory being overturned when new evidence surfaces. We imagine scientific knowledge as a sort of pyramid, with the most reliable knowledge composing the base and provisionality increasing as we move upward. While this model is useful for making the quintessentially (Humean–)Bayesian–Pricean point that stronger evidence should more strongly inform our beliefs, it falls apart as soon as we widen our scope from the single
Providence province to which the pyramid aspires. The sciences are not independent avenues of discovery, as imagery of a field of pyramids might suggest, but highly interdependent configurations of highly intradependent evidences and interpretations.
To draw an analogy of my own: The highly symbolic and culturally entangled concept of gender is not reducible to the space determined by orthogonal (and necessarily binary) spectra of identity, expression, “biological” sex, and attraction; it involves the highly nontrivial and individualized interplay of these factors, each of which in turn arises from the interplay of several distinguishable (if not wholly distinct) factors. A perhaps preferable model of gender is the graph representation of these interrelations: a node for each factor and edges tying them together, with the understanding that any particular node (say, “attraction”) may dissolve into a subnetwork of factors (intimacy, arousal, sexuality, satisfaction, saturation, etc.) on closer scrutiny.
Similarly, out of the intricate network of implications, corroborations, constraints, and tensions that connect elements of our aggregate body of facts and interpretations arises a web of knowledge. Moreover, this web may be anywhere localized, as though sliding a magnifying lens over a paper map, so that all our knowledge may be interpreted in terms of its relevance, or “consequential proximity”, to one’s topic of choice. Ultimately no particular discipline or theory is more “central” than any other.