After having written yesterday’s piece about the fallacy known as the appeal to nature, a favorite fallacy of the alternative medicine crowd. The idea that if something is somehow “natural” it must be superior to anything viewed as “unnatural” or “man-made” is deeply ingrained in pseudoscientific medicine. Heck, there’s even a brand of quackery known as “naturopathy” because it supposedly utilizes the “healing power of nature” when in reality is takes what I sometimes call a “Chinese menu” approach to quackery; i.e., one from column A, two from column B, one from homeopathy, two from traditional Chinese medicine. Little did I suspect that I’d so rapidly come across another favorite fallacy beloved of the alt-med crowd. It comes from someone we’ve met before, namely Kate Tietje, who goes under the nom de quack of Modern Alternative Mama. Strangely enough, she’s a rather recent discovery on my part, as I first learned of her in December. Let’s just say she has a major chip on her shoulder that she indulges yet again, this time in a post entitled Why The “Science” Critics are Dangerous.
Before I begin, first let me say that there is one thing she complains about that I do not approve of, either, and that’s the harassment of bloggers at their workplace. Of course, Tietje makes it seem as though the “Science” critics are the only ones who engage in such behavior when my history tells me that there’s plenty of that sort of behavior on Tietje’s side. I’ve lost track of how many times various quacks or quackery supporters have tried to get me in trouble at my job that I don’t even try to count any more. Indeed, Tietje starts her diatribe thusly:
It’s no secret that if you’re into “alternative” choices, there are people who don’t like it.
Just a few weeks ago, a group of doctors called for Dr. Oz to be fired from a staff position at a university because of his TV show — they didn’t like that he makes strong claims for supplements and alternative health products, and felt that this interfered with his ability to be employed as a serious doctor.
(While I’m not a fan of the show personally, nor of the types of claims he makes nor the products he endorses, I don’t see that this impacts his position on staff at a university, provided he isn’t handling that position in the same manner!)
As you recall, I wasn’t too fond of this gambit either. Indeed, as the days rolled on, I thought less and less of it, and it ended up backfiring as I had predicted, with Oz successfully portraying the attack as shills for industry being unhappy with him because he supported labeling GMOs, even as revelations came out about how Dr. Oz was actually looking for some sweet, sweet shilling opportunities himself.
Perhaps the most hilarious thing about Tietje’s entire post is this passage:
It may or may not surprise you that as a popular blogger in the alternative world, I’ve faced the same types of criticism — obviously on a smaller scale. There are entire groups dedicated to “stopping” me. These groups leave comments on my Facebook page almost daily, telling me how “dangerous” I am and linking to some article that’s pro-vaccine, pro-GMO, etc. They regularly — at least a couple times a month — write articles about me and all the “woo” I peddle.
I ignore them, generally, as do many of my colleagues. (Food Babe is another huge target for these people.) But it seems that despite ignoring them they’re only speaking out more and more. They’re doing so more publicly. They’re writing for major media and calling people out.
And you know what? It’s not okay. Which is why I’m taking a stand today. I think these so-called “science” critics are dangerous people. And it’s time everyone knew.
Notice how Tietje likens herself to Mehmet Oz by saying she faces the same types of criticism as he does. Oh, sure, “obviously” it’s on a smaller scale, but she’s just the same. Really. Of course, Dr. Oz, for all his current embrace of quackery, is a real doctor, a real surgeon, a real academic researcher (or at least he was a researcher—and a promising one at that—before he embraced pseudoscience). Kate Tietje, a.k.a. Modern Alternative Mama, on the other hand, has no discernable knowledge or skill in medicine. Well, that’s not quite true. She has knowledge; it’s just that it’s all wrong or misinterpreted. But she loves to talk about health.
Not surprisingly, apparently the incident that set Tietje off was criticism of home birth, leading her to brag that she’s about to do her first home birth, as though that was evidence that home birth is not riskier than hospital birth. I don’t want to get into that whole debate right here and now. (After all, I’m not Amy Tuteur, although I have discussed the issue a couple of times.) What stood out to me is that Tietje makes a bunch of assertions, dismissing the existing literature as being contaminated with “accidental” home births (women who didn’t make it to the hospital), home births attended by “unlicensed and unregulated midwives,” and various other biases, topping it off by saying “The few decently-performed studies we do have show the risk profile is not different between hospital and home, especially for low-risk multiparous women.” Yet, as is so often the case when she pontificates about topics of which she has little understanding, Tietje does not provide a single reference or example, even through a link, apparently because she considers her example “besides the point,” even though it was the issue that set her off on her rant.
Be that as it may, here’s the fallacy:
The real point is, it’s my goal to provide people with another view point. Alternative information. The mainstream isn’t exactly kind to people who choose home birth (or to reject some/all vaccines, or eat only organic, or…). It’s not exactly accurate or remotely unbiased.
There are people looking for that information. People who want to know what “the other side” really thinks about these topics. And they deserve a safe place to go to access that information.
Yes, it’s the fallacy of “I’m just providing an alternative viewpoint.” Or maybe I should call it an excuse or a dodge, because that’s what it is: a strategy for avoiding taking responsibility for what you say and write. Tietje, as I’ve documented, is rabidly antivaccine. She has been known to promote The One Quackery To Rule Them All (homeopathy) regularly on her blog, be it in the form of letting a homeopath advocate using homeopathic teething remedies, misrepresenting the history of homeopathy, or claimed that “homeopathy can help cure allergies.” She also routinely gushes about other forms of woo, such as the GAPS diet, the lates “leaky gut” claims, and, of course, demonizing dairy and gluten (actually claiming that grain in general is a big problem in an ebook).
This is a ploy that all manner of promoters of quackery use. Heck, even Dr. Oz uses it when he tries to claim his show is “not a medical show” but just entertainment. One’s tempted to take him at his word given all the quackery and pseudoscience he’s featured over the years, but in the end it’s a show with Dr. Oz’s name in the title featuring health advice and issues hosted by someone who’s trademarked the term “America’s Doctor” to describe himself after he garnered that monicker in his days of being the go-to guest doctor for Oprah Winfrey’s old talk show. “I’m just providing information,” they’ll say. “I’m just providing an ‘alternative’ viewpoint.” And then you can “make your own choice”:
Unlike these dangerous, insidious trolls, I have no desire to tell you what to do or what choices to make.
My only goal is to provide you with an alternative view point. To share alternative information with you. This might be from personal experience (and I’ll tell you clearly that it is) or it might be from studies (and I link to those when I use them). I’m perfectly, absolutely clear what I’m sharing with you is alternative and where it came from.
But after that? It doesn’t matter to me what you choose. You’re an adult. I can’t know your circumstances. I can’t and won’t force you to choose anything in particular. I would never attack you for doing differently than I do. I would never champion laws that forced you into particular choices. I would never troll you and make anonymous phone calls to get you in trouble because you do differently than I do.
This is disingenuous in the extreme. Does Tietje honestly expect us to believe her when she affects a studied disinterest in whether or not anyone listens to her viewpoint or is influenced by what she writes? If I were to say that to you, you’d (quite correctly) mock me mercilessly. Of course, I want to influence my readers. I’m arguing for science-based medicine and skepticism and against pseudoscientific medicine and other forms of woo, and I want you not to choose pseudoscience. I make no bones about it. Besides, given how obviously pissed off Tietje is in this post and in some of her other posts where she lambastes critics, advocates of science who criticize her publishing antivaccine pseudoscience and other forms of quackery on her blog, I refuse to believe that she’s so dispassionate that she doesn’t really care that much if she persuades anyone. Nobody—and I mean nobody—writes daily blog posts if she doesn’t care that much whether people are influenced by her.
She’s also hypocritical in the extreme. Earlier in her post she castigates pro-vaccine advocates and pro-science advocates for not taking responsibility if there’s a bad outcome from their advice, such as a bad vaccine reaction or a birth complication in the hospital. For instance, she says, “If you or your child is harmed, mentally or physically, during a hospital birth, no one is going to take the case and sue the doctors.” This is, of course, ridiculous, given that there is a whole class of personal injury attorneys whose business is taking cases like this. In any cae, Tietje contrasts herself to this thusly:
I get blamed all the time for this — “What if someone takes your advice and something bad happens? You should be held responsible.” I believe that we’re all the ones ultimately responsible for our own choices. I provide information; it’s up to you to read more, ask questions, and make a decision to use or ignore it. (And how much “trouble” are you going to get in by trying out one of my remedies for diaper rash, anyway?) You see, in a world where you have the freedom to seek information from many sources, you don’t have to blame anyone.
(And remember that these trolls refuse to take responsibility for poor outcomes, even when they force them on you. I’m not forcing anything on anyone.)
Who do you think is more dangerous, honestly? The one who freely provides you with information (that you may not use or agree with) and supports your right to choose…or the person who tells you there’s only one right answer and tries to censor anything they don’t want you to read?
I think it’s the latter.
Of course, as commenters pointed out, Tietje has been known to ruthlessly moderates her comment section, frequently deleting skeptical comments, even reasonable and polite ones. Then, further down the comment thread after having pointed out that it’s her blog and she doesn’t have to let anyone comment on it if she doesn’t want to (which is true; bloggers can moderate their comments as they see fit as far as I’m concerned), she complains about skeptics “blocking” them and accusing them of hypocrisy. In any case, she basically washes her hands of any responsibility for having advocated a viewpoint with the disingenuous (and convenient) tactic of saying, in essence, it’s all up to you, after having done her best to persuade you that her way is best.
Predictably, Tietje ends by invoking—what else?—freedom, going so far as to refer to skeptics as “anti-freedom bullies.” Yes, it’s the favorite trope of antivaccinationists and quacks, to embrace “freedom” but neglecting to point out that it’s the freedom from pesky government regulation of medicine and freedom to peddle whatever quackery they like that for which they’re actually arguing. Meanwhile, they whine piteously when skeptics exercise their freedom to criticize them, apparently not realizing that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism for that speech. As I said at the beginning, I do not in any way support harassment, but, as Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) did in her response to critics, quacks tend to intentionally conflate harassment with reasonable criticism in order to tar those making the reasonable criticism as “bullies” and “harassers.”
I was amused by one suggestion that Tietje makes near the very end of her post, “Use the hashtag #MAMempowered to show that you’re an educated and empowered alternative mama.” No doubt Tietje would consider it “bullying” if anyone used that hashtag in a way of which she doesn’t approve.