Mommy Warz: Spot the Illogic at, you guessed it, HuffPo

A recent HuffPo piece on that rather flagrant bit of cover trolling from TIME magazine irritates me.

HAHHAH. wait. I kid you not, I just went* to read the byline to insert the author into this post and noticed it was from that confirmed idiot Eric Michael Johnson. We've noted problems with him and his Huffery before on this blog.

As with the most dangerous idiots**, EMJ starts out just fine:

One thing I’ve learned in my research on human evolution is that people are quick to assume that what they do is “natural” simply because they don’t know of other examples where things are done differently. The primate brain is a pattern recognition machine and is adapted to quickly identify regularities in our environment. But when we are presented with the same pattern over and over again it is easy to fall victim to what is known as confirmation bias, or coming to false conclusions because the evidence we use does not come from a broad enough sample.

Okay, fine. Also to cherry pick some particular historical examples*** as evidence that "this is how it has always been" whilst ignoring other examples that are either contemporaneous or removed in time that totally contradict the "natural" fallacy.

Then EMJ runs straight into the wall:

In order to avoid falling for this bias on the question of extended breastfeeding the best way forward would be to draw from the largest sample possible: the entire primate lineage.

And that's it. That's his entire thesis, dressed up with a little bit of data and one graph. It's false. It's false because of one simple fact.

We, the humans, are about as unusual as it comes for a primate. In oh so many ways. Ways that are closely related to a categorical distinction when it comes to breastfeeding.

Humans have used their incredible brains to create options to breastfeeding!

The children fed on something other than breastmilk quite obviously survive and, indeed, thrive.

What we are discussing is the rarefied air of "better" or "worse" outcome in the context of variance in IQ, immune resistance, "bonding", etc that really is not readily attributable to any one source of input.

Take away breastfeeding for all of those other primates and you are not going to be talking about marginal improvements in smarts. You are going to be talking about massive changes in mortality rate.

This is why EMJ's argument**** is stupid.

__
*honestly.

**George Will

***A marriage has always been between one man and one woman, right Mitt?

****He may be right about the awesomeness of breastfeeding until the human child is three but this is sure as hell not an argument that demonstrates that.

21 responses so far

  • Fake User Name says:

    "The unusually low level of breastfeeding in the United States therefore has public health implications rather than simply being a lifestyle choice. "

    Apparently the author, the father of a three year-old, does not realize the set of childhood vaccinations that circumvent the need for transfer of maternal antibodies through breast feeding, prevent child mortality, and generally lead to a healthier society.

    And what's this bit about "hunting and gathering groups?" Has he also not heard of the domestication of cattle?

  • It's just another example of the naturalistic fallacy; that because a behavior (such as breast feeding) may have evolved and have selective advantage that it becomes a moral imperative.

    Funny how nobody seems to champion murdering stepchildren, although infanticide of offspring fathered by other males is a common evolved behavior in many male mammals.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    FFS. Seriously. I'm so sick of this debate. And I'm sickened by the fact that the 'breast is best' educational campaign has been co-opted by folks who seem to have an agenda not necessarily focused on sound neonatal care/nutrition.

    Without being exposed to pernicious judgment, every family, armed with basic post-natal care educational materials, should be allowed to make up their own damn minds about if and how long to breastfeed.

    And to those wonderful families who adopt or to those whom the lactation fairy forgot to visit post-birth, you are not destroying your child's well being by giving them formula.

    Bottom line: If you strive to provide a loving home and nourish your child, YOU ARE MOTHERFUCKING MOM (or DAD) ENOUGH!!!

  • PalMD says:

    you may have ruined my blogpost. I could not agree more. the crux of his arguments---humans are primates therefore normative primate behavior is a legit standard---is insane. What about [insert primate behavior] in lemurs vs. bonobos? Are lemurs "doing it wrong?"

  • drugmonkey says:

    Dude bonobos are doing it right. Don't you keep up with these primatologists? Bonobo is the answer to everything good and chimpanzee is the answer to everything bad.

  • PalMD says:

    Yeah, well since bonobos apocryphally fuck a zillion times a day, maybe humans are doing something wrong...or maybe bonobos are gonna burn in hell.

  • Srsly, I mean why stop at primates? We could be learning some very important lessons from the maternal habits of hedgehogs.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Primatologists, Pal, not Republicans.

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    It's a shame the rest of those primates are failing at being primates with their inability to start fires and build highways and shit.

  • tideliar says:

    Isis, how do bonobo make fire when babeh hanging off teat? Burn babeh bum! Or do non-human primate females breed at greater than 3yr intervals?

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    I can make fire with babies hanging off my teets. I'll totes show you some time.

  • Megan says:

    Drugmonkey you're being an ass about this article, regardless of your opinion on breastfeeding.

    1) It's originally posted at Scientific American blogs. By only mentioning HuffPo you are grabbing at the heartstrings of people who hate all the rando-bloggers at HuffPo.

    2) That is NOT his entire thesis at ALL. The Bulk of the article is about all the other people who live around the world, and how they feed their kids. It has nothing to do with the rest of the primates. Talk about cherry picking statements out of context to inflame your readers. Come on.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Megan-

    You might ask yourself why HuffPo loves EMJ and why he is willing to repost his drivel there. Second, you are incorrect about the thrust of his point. Not to mention the developed world/underdeveloped world analogy is similarly silly.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Also, like I said, I'd read this and worked up some annoyance before even working out who wrote it. And where it was originally posted. Which is, btw, irrelevant. Bora should be embarrassed for recruiting this disingenuous crypto AR nut in the first place.

  • becca says:

    DM, logically if comparing primates to humans is silly, and the underdeveloped world to the developed world is "similarly silly" then you are saying primates are similar to people in underdeveloped countries!!! ZOMG! ETHNOCENTRICITY RACISM ASSHOLERY!!!!11!!!1!!111!

    Anyway, my trolling aside, that article emphasized the way different people lived around the world at least as much as how other primates live.

    And there's no doubt that if you look at the broadest data available as to how humans live, it's obvious that our culture is the one of statistically freaks, and breastfeeding to 3 (or 5, if you have a boychick) is natural for humans.

    Whether what is natural is desireable is a whole nother question though.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Whether what is natural is desireable is a whole nother question though.

    Whether what is natural is necessary is a whole nother question though.

    FTFY.

  • becca says:

    DM- somebody claims that breastfeeding toddlers is necessary???

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Isn't that the essence of the TIME thing?

  • Isabel says:

    It's weird that the article doesn't even mention bottle-feeding of pumped breast milk or special formula. So the "Age of Weaning" graph is pretty misleading. If you combined bottle and breast the US curve would probably also look like a normal distribution around age three. I've known kids who sucked on containers of milk-type liquid with attached nipples (i.e. breast substitutes) up until age six. Most do it til 2 or 3, and then they are weaned. How did weaning become specific to the breast?

  • skeptifem says:

    I think that the majority of women do want to breast feed, but most cannot because of various social and cultural pressures. Where the fuck is that conversation?

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