What A Boob

We here at Doc Gurley were hoping, like most people, to just ignore the latest, clearly BOGUS pseudo-science news.

Unfortunately, such was not to be – the Atlantic article by a (self-described as rage-filled-about-the-act-of-breastfeeding) mom, who claims that – really – there’s no good data to support breastfeeding – just won’t die. Go on any

Breastfeeding an infant

message board, and this article, with its blend of strident bias, lack of scientific focus, and mocking rants against other women, is proliferating with Ebola speed like a flat-Earth-believing-virus.

Informed patients/parents are what each of us should strive to be – however, when you seek to make a final, authoritative statement about decades of research, most people would think it only appropriate that you have some knowledge or training about the subject. Or at least about how to analyze the literature. Keep in mind that this author, given a wider platform that almost anyone in America, has no more scientific training than (and here I quote) – “I called my doctor friend for her password to an online medical library.”

Ms. Rosin then, after learning epidemiology and statistics and scientific processes and analyzing the methods and raw data of more than a half-century of literature comprising literally thousands and thousands of studies – oh wait – well, actually, she reports that she “sat up” and read “dozens” of studies and “after a couple of hours” states “the basic pattern became obvious.” With a tone of reproach, she says “the medical literature looks nothing like the popular literature.” Well, no duh. She’s apparently shocked (shocked I tell you) to discover that scientific literature is “more like tiny, unsure baby steps: two forward, two back, with much meandering and bumping into walls.” I hate to be the one to break it to you, Ms. Rosin, but that, sweetie, is the nature of all scientific study. Scientists are NOT SUPPOSED to be rage-filled – they’re not supposed to mingle politics, personal grudges, and conflicted emotions with strident absolute claims.  Millions of babies’ health is at stake, and they’re actually aware of that fact. That’s why it’s different.

The linchpin of her argument (if there is one) is one review article from 1984 – which she apparently doesn’t realize was panned widely at the time for its flawed conclusions. Then, dismissing the lifework of literally thousands of researchers in one sentence, Ms. Rosin authoritatively states, “twenty-five years later, the picture hasn’t changed all that much.” Sheesh. If only someone had told all those people working in this area. Perhaps we should just toss all their superb work and valid conclusions? All of which tremendous effort, I might add, has been needed to off-set just this kind of bias.

So is there a definite answer somewhere? Wouldn’t it have been simpler for all these valiant researchers if there was just a one big, head-to-head trial that laid this issue to rest? Ms. Rosin doesn’t realize that the reason such a trial doesn’t exist isn’t because, as she assumes, feeding is too complicated or intimate an act to randomize (by randomize, we mean – draw a number – you get formula; or you get breast). Actually, that’s perfectly easy to do. All you have to do is find women who are ambivalent (and now there are going to be LOTS more) to be in the study. See, the real reason a definitive comparative trial hasn’t been done is actually because the overwhelming results of decades of data are that breastfeeding (when possible) is clearly superior to formula  – which makes a randomized trial UNETHICAL.

And, in a classic Wizard Of Oz “don’t look behind that curtain!” move, Ms. Rosin never once mentions either the burgeoning total dollar cost of formula (which is not trivial for most Americans), or formula contaminants like melamine, or the fact that once you wean, you can’t change your mind and go back to nursing.

Then, while garnering massive amounts of national news purely by stating there’s no clear data to support breast-feeding’s advantages*, she makes her final, ultimate conclusion – saying shamelessly (and, apparently, without even a touch of irony), “Breast-feeding does not belong in the realm of facts and hard numbers; it is much too intimate and elemental.”

So how did one woman’s deeply flawed, emotional, uninformed and shockingly anti-intellectual rant get so much press? Is it just because of the contrarian nature of news today? Well, one thing is for sure – however you “feel” about this topic, since melamine was found in several brands of America’s infant formula – corporate multi-national formula makers are doing the happy-dance every time this story gets more and more uncritical air-time.

The tragedy is that, in the end, most Americans will now vaguely remember that there’s some “doubt” about the breastfeeding issue, even when there’s not.

So who would do such an irresponsible thing as tout this piece of misinformation – and never once even mention the little melamine “problem”? Well, no less than the Today Show and NBC news gave this article a national platform it didn’t deserve. They even buried Dr. Nancy Snyderman’s assessment that “breastfeeding is best” way after headlines , pictures, and captions that undermined her conclusion, and Dr. Snyderman then took the appalling stance that the “data isn’t so strong.” Hello? Compared to what? Where’s the study (any study?) showing formula is best? Ever?

For that, we award NBC news, and the Today show a HUGE raspberry of Biased and unObjective -  Grudges Undermine Science (BOGUS) Award. Hey, BTW, who are their corporate sponsors?

*This claim would be called, scientifically, NOT TRUE – and itself wins not only a BOGUS Award, but a Flat Earth Award too. In fact,  in a release that could be seen is a direct salvo to Hanna Rosin’s rant, a well-designed, major study this week in the journal Pediatrics shows that breastfeeding may reduce risks of  SIDS by half throughout infancy, even when all other factors and interventions are controlled for. But hmm, that didn’t get much press, now did it? Are you listening, NBC news?

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