Science Writer Disses the Science Behind Parenting

It's hard being a parent some days. Especially for those of us who value the scientific process....

Newsweek science writer Mary Carmichael, a soon-to-be mother, reports there is "no such thing as evidence-based parenting" in the Health Matters column in the latest Newsweek magazine - "Dare I Trust My Intuition?".

She quotes an expert saying "no one really knows" much for sure. That research hasn't provided many answers for parents.

No scientific evidence of use or interest to parents? Really?

We scientific-minded parents yearn for thoughtful, accurate, and engaging reporting on research amidst the plentiful misinformation. The all-too common personal anecdotes, speculation, rumor, confusion, anger, and disbelief in science. Doctors battling doctors over vaccine schedules (Sears v. Offit), government health officials making overly strict recommendations (e.g., "no tv for those under 2, breastfeeding for one year, no more cold and cough meds), government agencies aruging over toxic substances in baby bottles, sensationalized news accounts giving equal attention to good and bad research.

And now this.

A science writer dissing science.

Who says she's going to rely on her intuition because there's no science.

Yes, go ahead and use your intuition. No one can ever know your child like you will. She's right on that point. And no study could ever tell me how to soothe my colicky daughter or which preschool would best suit my son. True. Science tends toward the general, not the individual.

But it's quite a leap to say we know nothing for sure in the realm of parenting. That research has contributed nothing to our understanding of every day parenting concerns. Hmmm. Concerns like ADHD, bullying, breastfeeding, feeding, reading, sports injuries, friendships... ????

And what set off Carmichael's distrust of parenting research? Ah, some 2006 Oprah show featuring an expert who said she could interpret newborn's cries. OF COURSE there was no research behind her methods. No well-conducted study of her success. And I'm sure she was no scientist.

Makes perfect sense. The non-scientist made scientifically unsubstantiated claims that fueled distrust in science.

And I wonder if Ms. Carmichael will breastfeed her newborn? If so, will she do it simply because it seems like fun..OR... because of the substantial evidence of its benefits?


Sherry Artemenko said...

Dr. Polly,

I thought the same thing when I read that article in Newsweek. Obviously mothers should use their maternal intuition as well as be advised of research-based advice for parenting. I'm as speech-language pathologist with a blog, articles and reviews on best toys and books to build language on my website at I give lots of practical, research-based tips on how to encourage your child’s language development:’s-language-development/ I hope this is helpful to your readers. Sherry Artemenko

Dr. Polly said...

Howdy, Sherry! Good to hear from you. It's nice to know I'n not the only one wondering why the science writer's disregarding scientific evidence. Where would speech therapy be without some solid research? Will definitely go to your webpage and blog. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.