Congratulations on your new adorable bundle of felonious odors, mysterious noises, green secretions, and is the baby supposed to bend that way? You have a cuddly list of symptoms in the making. But where will you turn in the middle of the night when the baby monitor goes off (or, for the co-sleepers, when you’re kicked in the milk-engorged tit) and your baby is up with a fever? Your parents, who—at best, you feel—were barely able to keep you alive, or, at worst, should still be paying your therapy bill? Not in this wonderful age of information.
So where does a busy working mother turn between her decaf soy latte and pre-natal yoga classes for all the answers to life’s questions? The tribe of the Mommy Bloggers, of course. Presenting themselves as the bastion of helpful mothers next door, elbows deep in the credibility of diaper cream and snotty noses, they seem like a comforting resource to new mothers who just want to know, “how do I not break the baby?” and “which baby bottle will increase little Mason’s chances of getting into Yale?”
(None. Mason is fucked.)
You can get a lot of useful information from your new pack of internet friends with whom you bond over sleepless nights and vomit-stained bibs. But what’s the reputability of the information on a blog? And whose advice should you be staking your child’s health on? Someone whose only vetted qualification, as far as you know, is that they bought a website and they—probably—have a baby?
Lack of credibility abounds on the internet jungle, but take heed not to wander through this tangled mess unarmed. These women are not always out to help you; depending on the blogger, they’re out to make a living, shame you for not keeping up with their arbitrary measure of motherhood, and just plain old spread dangerous misinformation.
Let’s take a look at five of the most controversial Mommy Bloggers on the internet. In these tribes, mother doesn’t always know best.
In No Particular Order…
5. Moms Across America
Zen Honeycutt is the head of Moms Across America. She also wins the award for the name most likely to be mistaken for a dietary supplement. I was first introduced to Honeycutt’s antics on the Dr. Oz show. Even admitting that her evidence is criticized as anecdotal, somehow it made the cut onto national television because remember, the Dr. Oz show is not a medical show. Her knowledge was sourced not from scientific testing, but from something much better than peer review according to the interweb: maternal instinct.
Here’s what she’s known for, and what likely got her booked on the show: her youtube videos and trying to conspiratorially link science bloggers to the Koch Brothers when they disagree with her. Because if you can’t refute them, waving your magic Mommy Wand to cast a spell of Reductio Ad Evilcorporatum works for everything. Easily topping her evil corporation list? Monsanto, producers of evil glyphosate and GMOs, are responsible for ruining, well, virtually everything. They’re causing allergies, autism, and even cancer. Maybe they’re responsible for the New York Yankees and the impending zombie apocalypse.
“The real story is the hold Monsanto has on our media,” Honeycutt claims. If I believed all that, I’d be trying to warn Moms across America too. But I science way harder than Honeycutt. Let’s start with glyphosate, what it is and what it isn’t. Pesticides are heavily regulated now and formulated to be targeted: i.e. bad for pests, safe for humans. Glyphosate actually replaced more toxic pesticides which nobody ever seems to bring up, because it’s used with certain GMOs and we haven’t taken a science class since the only place we could make out was in the back seat of our father’s Dodge Stratus. Furthermore, comparing their safety data sheets for toxicity, glyphosate’s LD50 supports that it’s less toxic than table salt. And as for that whole messy cancer thing, drawing evidence from fourteen studies, researchers were unable to trigger a case of cancer and concluded:
“There was no evidence of a carcinogenic effect related to glyphosate treatment. The lack of a plausible mechanism, along with published epidemiology studies, which fail to demonstrate clear, statistically significant, unbiased and non-confounded associations between glyphosate and cancer of any single etiology, and a compelling weight of evidence, support the conclusion that glyphosate does not present concern with respect to carcinogenic potential in humans.”
If Honeycutt and her ilk are so determined to return to organic farming, at one point sulfuric acid, a naturally occurring and hence classifiable as “organic” in pesticide nomenclature, was used as a pesticide before they found it corroded farming equipment. But hey, it was natural. And as for Monsanto controlling everything? It’s not in the top hundred—or the top 300—political donors.
But this doesn’t stop Honeycutt from some deeply entrenched beliefs in Monsanto’s alleged entanglement with independent scientists. Honeycutt attempted to conduct a study on the all powerful and evil glyphosate in breastmilk using her advanced scientific training of ‘momming on the internet’ (my very kind lawyers want me to point out that, after an exhaustive search, she does not appear to have advanced scientific credentials). She found that there was glyphosate in breast milk because science works through the power of confirmation bias and wishful thinking.
On the other hand, Dr. Shelley McGuire set up a thorough study to test for the same thing and found the exact opposite results. She even tested on women who work in agriculture and personally spray glyphosate and, as is normal in science, had the results verified by an outside lab. They found no glyphosate in the breast milk. Honeycutt’s answer? This had to be Monsanto’s doing. It couldn’t just be that science disagreed with her.
4. The Paleo Mom
For a truly tribal journey, head over to The Paleo Mom, a blog where the latest trendy diet meets a recently slimmed-down, attractive mother with a badass set of scientific credentials. But pop a Benadryl, because the mountainous haystack of bullshit burying the needle of scientific fact is daunting. I’m clawing my eyeballs out already from the hayfever.
Or maybe it’s from all the times the blog describes her bowel movements, I’m not sure which.
Sarah Ballantyne’s nearly half-a-million followers buy into the credibility of her PhD in biophysics. They follow her claims that “you can put your disease into remission, often permanently” with diet alone. And they believe her when she suggests that a leaky gut and food sensitivities can be at the root of disparate disorders from cardiovascular to auto-immune diseases. In the course of adopting the paleo diet to heal her stomach ails, her website claims she’s lost 120 lbs and treated a dozen autoimmune diseases. Beyond weight loss, she espouses paleo as a lifestyle that helps prevent and treat diseases, and she further recommends her self-designed autoimmune protocol.
So where to start wrecking this neanderthalic mishmash of misinformation?
To start: the paleo diet is bullshit on so many levels. The premise alone is bunk. Ballantyne classifies everything from cancer to narcolepsy to schizophrenia as an immune system disorder, citing this Wikipedia article as a scientific source. Is your BS detector going off yet? It should be. Upon examination of the source article, it clarifies that all three of these illnesses have “No (consistent) evidence of association with autoimmunity.” Of the seemingly arbitrary number of disorders Ballantyne chose to pull out of the Wiki article, only six out of the twenty-one listed disorders are classified as autoimmune in nature. If it happens in the brain, it’s probably neurological. How do you even put “schizophrenia” on your website as an autoimmune without somebody telling you that you’re full of shit?
Whether or not she intended to mislead her readers, both her reading comprehension and her scientific integrity are up for questioning.
So how does she claim you can cure these disorders? By healing your leaky gut, as her advice espouses you will, your body naturally heals myriad health problems. It would help her case if medical science ever agreed that this was a thing, but at this point? Despite having been consistently shot down, the theory of the leaky bowel keeps making the rounds with folks in the miracle cure community. She can’t even keep her BS straight on it; in one article, she blames stress for leaky gut. In another, it’s the standard American diet and those pesky grains.
Furthermore, Ballantyne promotes the fully debunked idea of gluten intolerance, claiming that the only way to test is removing gluten from your diet to see if you arbitrarily feel better. Nope. I have celiac disease, and this perpetuation of the myth of “gluten intolerance” is why, when I go to a restaurant, the waitstaff looks at me like I’m a fussy asshole following a trendy diet. In real medicine, we have a test for celiac disease—but not for mythical diseases that make your bullshit diet sound like it has any real validity.
With 122k followers on Facebook, a TED talk under her belt, and a master’s degree, Leah Segedie is the photogenic force of wellness and weight loss behind Mamavation. The Huffington Post has even compared her to Lady Gaga. She sounds delightful, right? Like glitter that won’t wash off after a night of puking peach daquiris.
Because when you google “Mamavation,” what’s one of the subjects that comes up? “Armpit cleanse.” One would have thought that soap and deodorant didn’t require a website, but alas.
Segedie’s facebook page for Mamavation states, “Mamavation is a disease prevention campaign championed by moms for families. We teach moms healthy behaviors that they can share with their families. We believe in the power of social media activism to create positive change for public health.” Off to a good start. Unlike a lot of Mommy Blogs, it’s mainly advice for women—generally focused on weight loss geared towards other mothers.
However. The site staffs a naturopathic physician, which, as respected science writer Dr. David Gorski has explained, means Segedie promotes “a hodge-podge of mostly unscientific treatment modalities based on vitalism and other prescientific notions of disease.” And why does this matter?
A real doctor would have dropped some fucking science on this utterly ridiculous piece about the dangers in bread. Glutens, plural? It’s one protein, singular. This would have taken about four seconds on google. Gluten is bad for the approximate 1% of us with celiac disease and that’s pretty much it. The rest of you should be enjoying—in moderation, as part of a balanced diet—all the baguettes that I haven’t been able to touch for years. But their naturopathic physician is way, way into the gluten-free bullshit, and her paycheck would take a major hit if she accepted the evidence that non-celiac gluten sensitivity isn’t real. Which is to say, I can understand her confusion.
A real doctor would have pointed out that the endless goddamn detoxing for everything was bullshit. The diet detox to lose weight because toxins are making you fat? The work of someone who doesn’t understand laws of thermodynamics and has no idea that organic produce contains pesticides. If you click on the link to her “wellness bundle,” at a 95% discount (an alleged $1,300 value? I’d like to see the itemized invoice on this one), they bring you to an article on combating Lyme disease. Their solution? Buying an expensive—and unproven—detox, as recommended by a charming chiropractor who is not at all qualified to recommend such “cures.”
And unlike a chiro or a naturopath, a certified M.D. would have put the kibosh on the fearmongering in this Segedie article, which claims that although table salt is killing you, Himalayan salt is a panacea. She cites this article on WebMDas a resource. Showing a blatant disregard for reading source content, the WebMD article actually states that “the findings were not terribly encouraging. We couldn’t demonstrate anything” in terms of treatment efficacy from Himalayan salt lamp style ion therapy. The other websites Segedie links to fail to provide any published studies—just their own brand of pseudoscience word salad touting “mineralization,” “wellness,” and “oxidative stress” as markers for the Himalayan salt’s effectiveness. And outside corroboration? Of course not. There are no linked published studies on the site, and why would there be? Himalayan salt is about 99% identical to that alleged demon killer, table salt.
Still, if you’re looking for a supportive environment to lose weight and want to enroll in one of their boot camps, they appear qualified and they’ve definitely helped people lose weight. But there are also better resources on the internet. The most positive thing I can say about her website is that, as a site geared mainly as advice for women—rather than, say, advice about parenting—they do their readers the favor by not saying a word about vaccines. Unlike…
2. Thinking Moms Revolution
“Safe, non-invasive, therapeutic, total-body detoxification that kids love!” Welcome to Thinking Moms Revolution, a site run by people I’m not entirely sure have ever met a child. Total body detox? Have they ever tried getting a kid to take a bath?
The Thinking Moms Revolution is ostensibly your one-stop shop for autism miracle cures. With 45k followers on their Facebook page, they rely on a network of 24 parents utilizing reputable-sounding screennames like DragonSlayer, Cupcake, and Twonk. Their all-out assault on critical thinking is such a misnomer for their website that you’ll be sure your mouse click was redirected. How bad is it? They’re about a “quantum” short of the most nonsensical rambling I’ve ever read on the internet. Case in point: this article on essential oils.
All homeopaths appear to agree that eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils should not be used with homeopathy as these are thought to antidote at least some of the homeopathic remedies(…) Some people are very sensitive and even avoid walking past a Starbucks for fear of interrupting their homeopathy healing!
But their vaguely goofy ruckus about homeopathy doesn’t even come close to scariest part of their site: their claims on treating autism with everything from marijuana to CD/MMS leaves one questioning their morality. If you’re not at least somewhat horrified, it’s possibly because you haven’t heard of CD/MMS. It stands for chlorine dioxide/Magical Mineral Solution— better known as bleach—intended to be administered to children via enema. It’s proposed to “heal” autism because, within this alternative health community where autism is viewed as something to recover from, they adhere to the theory that autism is caused by a host of things that don’t include genetics. This list varies, and can include vaccines, undefined toxins, pesticides, GMOs, pollution, yeast, dental fillings, and, of course, parasites—parasites that can ostensibly be treated with bleach. There are two problems with this. One is that, in science, one thing doesn’t generally have 15 possible causes. The flu is caused by a virus. Electricity is caused by the flow of electrons. And in this case, we’ve actually found the one thing that does cause autism: a University of North Carolina researcher actually found the genetic mutation (post-publish edit: linked to about 1000 genes) that causes autism.
So wouldn’t you think this would put an end to the autism miracle cure industry? Of course not. And this leads to the second problem: the autism miracle cures are often downright unintentionally abusive. Parents think they’re removing the “parasitic ropeworms” that are causing the autism with this bleach solution. And, as in so many cases where correlation equals not causation, parents think they’re seeing their children improve from autism, because they see what they’ve been told are “ropeworms” being evacuated in their children’s bowel movements. The reality of the situation is that the lining of their intestines has been stripped away. Any reported improvement in behavior (though it’s questionable if this happens at all) is because the child is now scared to death of their parents and—shockingly—they’re trying to avoid receiving another goddamned bleach enema.
And still, Thinking Moms Revolution describes CD/MMS as a protocol that’s produced good results.
1. Modern Alternative Mama
Just when I think I’ve left the conspiracy theory tribe, I venture here, a dark timeline where Dunning and Kruger seem to have had a baby.
Where do we even start with the most dangerous site for children’s health advice on the internet? I’m going to skip the foreplay. Kate Tietje runs Modern Alternative Mama and she is, quite simply, the most dangerous, ill-informed blogger dispensing misinformation on the internet. The parents who take her advice over the advice of a doctor are putting the lives of their children in danger. I’ve written about her already here, here, and here. She makes me think the Food Babe really isn’t that much of a problem.
I’m sorry, I’m supposed to be the science writer who makes you laugh. Let’s let the good times roll:
There was that time she didn’t bring her child to the doctor for a week when the child had a broken arm, instead opting for a chiropractor who said that there was nothing wrong. It took her a full week to bring the child to a real doctor for a correct diagnosis because she’s so against modern medicine. That Kate, so funny!
She doesn’t want you to stock any real medicines in your medicine cabinet. Not even Epinephrine or Benadryl in case of severe allergic reaction. Instead, she suggests clay to suck out toxins. Oh Kate, you’re hilarious!
She’s written a book on a “practical” guide to children’s health in which she advises you to squirt breastmilk into a child’s nose to help heal a cold. Breastmilk up the nose, that Tietje is such a kidder!
During the measles epidemic, she declared that “Enough Is Enough With Blaming Anti-Vaxxers.” I thought that was genuinely hilarious because guilt is funny. So I responded. Man, bringing back diseases that we thought were wiped out? Tietje is a laugh machine!
Remember when the news broke that there were infants bleeding out because of bloggers saying you don’t need vitamin K shots? Modern alternative mama again. Kate’s just so damn funny I forgot to fucking laugh.
At this point, I’m convinced that if she says the sky is blue, it’s because it’s turned purple. Warn a friend. Warn 20 friends. Their kids deserve better than a broken arm and a breastmilk-clogged nostril.
Mommy Blogs vs. Science Blogs
There’s a reason people start following fearmongering, non-evidence based advice. Desperation. Vulnerability. A willingness to do anything it takes to protect or help children, no matter how atrocious that “anything” may be. After a year of writing about pseudoscience, I’ve observed that people start following advice, ranging from marching against GMOs to bleach enemas, because they think they’re doing what’s absolutely right for their children. Sometimes the false hope of a cure seems better than no cure at all.
Whether the credibility that’s presented to them is from Dr. Mom or Dr. Oz, they’re the hero of their story on a quest for answers. Crusading through the modern jungle of the internet, they’ll find their tribe who can provide some hidden knowledge to help protect them. That quest and hunger for knowledge is admirable. But their methods and acceptance of statements without proof has created an environment rife with dangerous dogma. The blame lies not on the mothers who accept it, but on the blogs chock-full of affiliate links, medical advice, and provisos that say, “This advice is not meant to be taken as medical advice. Now please buy my book of medical advice.”
I have more respect for what mothers do than I can possibly convey. As cute as Buddy the Science Dog is, he’s not my child. And one of the main reasons I’m not a mother is because I’m aware of how much work it is. I’ve seen friends clean diaper explosions and, based on that reason alone, I’m not sure how anybody survives past the age of “it’s time to bring the baby home from the hospital now.” Mommying is some hardcore shit. Literally. Those babies deserve the Mommying from you and the science from scientists.
Learn to recognize reputable proof.
Demand evidence from the bloggers, and learn which members of the tribe are evidence-based.
If you’re looking for medical advice, stick to medical blogs that cite review and meta-analysis, instead of an outlier who happens to fit their worldview.
And as for the Mommy Bloggers? You’re always going to find blogs with an agenda. When you’re at that stage of parenting, the stage where you’re trying to figure out which diapers fit right and wondering if buying a bottle that costs a dollar less means that little Madison Rainbow won’t get into Yale, that’s when you should head over to a Mommy Blogger. But questions about immune systems, medications, and broken arms? Ask the right expert. Because they’re willing to do everything it takes to protect your children. Let them, because no matter which tribe, a mom who knows science knows best.
Addendum: These are the five I chose to write about but there are, admittedly, a lot of other unscientifically based bloggers floating around the internet. If I’d written about all of them in one article, it could have been enough to fill a book. Share your picks (for another post on Mommy Bloggers) in the comments!