Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Rocky Start for Skepchick's Grounded Parents

Back in November a friend of mine posted a link to an announcement: Now Hiring Parents! Skepchick was seeking writers for its new sister blog Grounded Parents

I'm not naive; I know most blogging "jobs" only pay in exposure. However, some do pay, even if it is just a token amount. I'm not looking for a full time career. Just a little something to help pay for dance lessons and this killer-winter's heating bills. Since nothing in the notice mentioned it being volunteer, I went ahead and applied. 

I was soon emailed for a "call back" and asked to submit an article. I wrote and submitted A White Mom Talks To Her White Kid About Race and was promptly "hired." 

I expected maybe a contract to follow. Instead I was added to an email discussion list, instructed on how to use gravatar and sign up for WordPress and there was a flurry of casual introductions and chitchat. After a week, the administrators submitted a rough draft of the "guidelines", where it mentioned this was an "unpaid gig." 

After another week (and before the site's launch) I resigned, including this paragraph: 

As an artist, I stopped entering juried exhibitions that charge fees 8 years ago because I felt the practice took advantage of artists. In graduate school I refused to do unpaid internships on principle and still find the widespread practice of them unethical and giving advantage to young people from more affluent families. If writing was a hobby, I would do it. But I've been paid for my writing and I'm currently in the process of trying to sell a book. If I'm going to take myself seriously as a professional artist and writer, I just can't give it away. 

(And just in case anyone thinks I'm giving it away here on my Humanist Mom blog, I'll have you know that I earned $3.00 on Google ads last month.) 

Grounded Parents launched on December 17th. After being introduced to the diverse and interesting group of people who were hired to write for the site, I began reading. 

Like most blogs, there's a lot of personal memoir. Indeed, memoirs can be enlightening if they are well written (or performed, as with Jenny Splitter's F#@*ck the Birth Experience) and tackle meaty topics. Some posts on Grounded Parents (such as Splitter's), accomplish this. Others came off to me as a bit self indulgent and dull. 

Several of the articles offer parenting advice or descriptions of what they think is superior parenting. When such advice comes from writers with no professional credentials in childhood development, cite little to no research to back it up, and/or employs vague platitudes and generalizations, it is meaningless and unwarranted. In other words, writers writing because they love the sound of their own prose and get a zing out of comments praising them for their insight. This sort of mediocre writing is common on blogs, but it is disappointing to see so much of it on a high visibility skeptic website. 

There was also this bump in the road; just two months in, Grounded Parents had to fire one its bloggers and issue a public apology for the person's inappropriate behavior. The poor ethics of this blogger-in-question was exhibited previously in this post (a rather shitty argument in favor of standardized tests) where she admits to giving a student a worse grade than he deserved because he was "a pain in the ass." 

The shit really started to hit the fan for me with Chris Brecheen's post Grounded Midwives, which is a personal story about how his partner attempted a homebirth with Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs), and how the midwives alleviated his fears of their woo with their actual good sense trust in real medicine. It is clear by the end of the article that he's unaware of the controversy over CPMs being even allowed to practice midwifery, seeing as unlike Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) who receive a high level of medical training, work with hospitals, and abide by standards set by the medical establishment, CPMs are lay midwives certified by a separate organization, are often not covered by insurance, and fail to meet minimum standards of training to practice midwifery in most other developed nations. The moment in the article when Brecheen stops worrying and begins to view the midwives as his skeptical allies is when one of them admits that there is no science to back the notion that eating placenta has any benefits. Kind of a low bar for skepticism if you ask me. 

Next there was the English professor who claimed in Against Marriage that "The solution to poverty is to encourage all our children to avoid marriage until they are at least twenty-five." Because after all, people under twenty-five's forebrains are too underdeveloped to make adult decisions about getting married and being parents, nobody with a high school diploma has a complete education, and anyone can earn a living wage if they just wait long enough to have kids. I ended up being so pissed about this ignorant piece of crap post that I felt compelled to write Harming Young Mothers With Stereotypes in response, just to balance out the blogosphere. 

Then, for whatever reason, Grounded Parents decided to feature a guest post by "Skepchick's resident stats junkie/guru" Jamie Bernstein, titled Homebirth Safety and Risk. In the article, Bernstein looks at two very different reports on this study of home birth outcomes: first that of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) and second that of Skeptical OB Dr. Amy Tuteur. Bernstein concludes that while MANA is guilty of downplaying the dangers of high risk home birth (as they celebrate the supposed safety of low-risk homebirths), Dr. Tuteur is manipulating data to make home birth look riskier and fear-mongering. 

To put it another way, a skeptic blog smacked down a skeptic of good repute who is fighting a war against reckless lay midwives who put women and babies at risk, and gave a slap on the wrist to the organization that supports those same lay midwives. What the fuck? 

Dr. Tuteur went on the offense, pointing out Bernstein's errors, clarifying where Bernstein was confused about Tuteur's analysis, and chastising Bernstein for not contacting her first for clarification about the points where she was confused. You know, like a journalist would have done. But this isn't journalism. Not even amateur journalism. This is bad blogging. Of course Dr. Tuteur also asked for an apology. 

Instead of an apology, Grounded Parents published a follow-up guest post from Bernstein which criticizes statistician Dr. Brooke Orosz's analysis of the study as presented on Dr. Tuteur's blog and promoted by iO9. This second article starts out with errors, such as describing only one of the study's authors as midwives (and that therefore iO9's title is misleading.) In fact, three of the six authors were midwives and five of the six had ties to MANA. And regardless of the article's title, iO9 refers to the study authors as "PhDs and midwives" in the body of the article. 

Bernstein's big message in this second post is that Dr. Orosz failed to construct a well-enough matched cohort when comparing the MANA stats to CDC numbers, and therefore her and Dr. Tuteur's conclusions are a misrepresentation. Dr. Orosz herself appears in the comments to explain (actually to reiterate) that she deliberately selected a cohort that would likely favor home birth. She writes: 

My hospital cohort ISN’T a good comparison. I did not attempt to construct a matched cohort, because, as you noted, that would be very complex and subtle and open to interpretation and misinterpretation. Instead, I selected a cohort that could not possibly be LOWER in risk.

Ultimately Jamie Bernstein comes off as if she's nitpicking any bit of minutiae she can to discredit Dr. Tuteur out of personal vendetta. 

And this when (as Dr. Tuteur points out) homebirth advocates are linking to Bernstein's articles to spread their message that homebirth is just as safe as hospital birth. 

In the time since Bernstein's first guest post was published on Grounded Parents, Dr. Amy Tuteur has debunked a study that claims that c-sections cause obesity, and has unrelentingly continued to report on the unnecessary death of Gavin Michael that happened because instead of strongly recommending transfer to a hospital, the midwife crowd-sourced advice on facebook. Because that's what a great skeptic blog does. 

I had hoped for more in a parenting blog geared toward freethinkers. But, as they say, you get what you pay for. 

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