Category Archives: The Science Bit

Really, Stop It with the Breasts

formula: evil, evil, EVIL!

Ah, the breastfeeding debate!  No, not that one, which for the record, ends thus: yes, you can whip out a lactating boob anywhere and feed your baby with it; kill anyone who tries to stop you.

I mean the other breastfeeding debate, the humdinger of ‘breast versus bottle’.  The most divisive battle since Oliver Cromwell decided royalty wasn’t all that.  The new ‘civil war’ amongst mothers and others who stick their oars in for fun and/or profit. (Really, it’s a good comparison: Cromwell wasn’t content to just pummel Charlie into the ground militarily and leave it at that; no, he had to chop his head off as well.  Nothing says ‘I think you’re worthless and have no redeeming qualities whatsoever’ like decapitating somebody.)

Here at Boogieville, we have already signed off on all interest in ‘scientific’ studies about the relatives benefits of breast v. bottle unless, and I quote:

…they suddenly discover that breast milk is actually poisonous, or formula makes people vote Tory...’

Because failing such momentous impact:

…these studies are only useful for one thing: being rolled up and used to beat mothers around the head.’

No, ma’am, we do not like breast v. bottle ‘studies’.  Just put them down and back away.

Possibly something we don’t like even more however (though we allow love into our hearts while we’re not liking it), is the way women allow themselves to be sucked into this whole bag of crap that making a single choice about a single aspect of raising a child can somehow define you not only as a mother but as an evil she-whore hell-bag.  Or not.

The Guardian has a small piece every Saturday called ‘What I’m Really Thinking’, featuring a different ‘type’ person every week – you know, ‘the house cleaner’ (I don’t mind cleaning shit-filled toilets but I hate ironing), ‘the dinner party host’ (I have in the past shot guests who cut the nose off the brie), the ‘shy person’ (I’d really like to be less shy but, well, I’m not, really).  That type of thing.  Clearly, you can see it’s a ‘fluff’ piece at best.

This week’s is What I’m Really Thinking: the bottle feeding mother.  I knew I’d regret reading it, but a Saturday bath means The Guardian magazine cover-to-cover (especially after early dinner family Yo! Sushi, when I’m lying in the water so replete with raw fish the ‘beached whale’ analogy is entirely apt), so I read it.  It’s short, so you can read it, too:

I see the breastfeeding mothers watching me as I rummage in my changing bag for the ready-made carton of formula. Those looks speak a thousand words, most of which boil down to, “How could you? We’re doing the best for our baby, why aren’t you?”

I feel as if they’re judging me, looking at me as a lesser mother than they are just because I’m giving my baby formula. Do they feel superior to me? Certainly I feel that I have to defend my decision to bottle-feed, justify my choices so they’ll accept me.

They sit…with their beady eyes peeking over their breastfeeding aprons as my son gulps down his 5fl oz. But I can’t help noticing how their looks change – a bit of envy maybe? – when I start to bottle-feed. My guess is they’re thinking,”That looks a lot more efficient than breastfeeding.” You’re right, I want to tell them.

I can almost hear the deafening mental processing in those staid church halls: “She won’t have cracked nipples, mastitis, thrush or leaking milk. And her partner probably helps with the night feeds.”

But I don’t want to fall into the trap of judging them too harshly, either. I’d like to have tried breastfeeding, but medical complications took the choice out of my hands. Now that I bottle-feed, I see the advantages. I’d even choose it again next time. It’s really not so bad, I want to tell them, you should try it some time.’

Now, first off, I’m inclined to be sceptical of the piece because it seems simply to be an example of a person’s own feelings of inadequacy being transferred onto others.  The other mothers are firstly looking saying “How could you? We’re doing the best for our baby, why aren’t you?”, then miraculously, they look envious?  Really?  Wow, these women can really work a look or two, can’t they?  Transference, much?  Not that I judge her for that: what mother is unaware – in this country at least – of the pressure now put on women to breast-feed?  And if you can’t, it can make you feel like shit.

But christ alive, if I had a pound for every time, in those early baby days, when I heard a bottle-feeding mother explain to me or to an assembled throng of breast feeders  (at least half of whom at any given time would have a baby on the boob – I live in middle class North London* where breast feeding is positively viral) why she was bottle feeding I would be in for free flat whites for life.  And I have a serious coffee habit. Anonymous does it here; despite attesting to a high level of satisfaction with bottle feeding, she still feels the need to tell you why she didn’t breast feed.

And to every, single mother who explained to often virtual strangers why she was picking up a bottle rather than exposing a breast I just wanted to say: stop it.  Stop explaining to me why.  You have no obligation to tell me that your milk didn’t come in, that you got mastitis so bad you considered chopping your breast off, that your baby couldn’t latch on, that your boobs were too small, or too big, or too lop-sided, or that you suffer from tubular breasts, that you’re taking medication for mental illness, or your cat died and you were too sad to produce milk.

You do not owe me an explanation.

I’m of the view that, all things being equal, breast milk is probably superior to formula.  Knowing what I know (and trust me, I know more than I’d like to), that’s where I stand on the dividing line.  But when the fuck are all things equal?  When are any of our choices made in a vacuum? This is feminism 101, people, so it shouldn’t really need explaining, but it seems as if it does.

We make all kinds of choices as mothers that represent compromises between what we view as ‘perfect’ and what we recognise as ‘achievable’ and trust me when I say that you will make far more compromised decisions about your children as they grow than whether to feed breast or formula.

Fortunately for the confused amongst you, I can settle the whole Bottle-feeding: does it make you evil? debate with a few simple questions:

1. Do you love your baby?

2. Do you provide your baby with enough nutrition so that the scale needle goes up with time instead of down?

3. Is your feeding method of choice – discounting any feelings of inadequacy you may feel coerced into having – working for you?

If you answer yes to all three, then you have Bingo.  Collect your prize money and go out and celebrate.  Which of course, you can do in far more style if you’re not breast feeding.

Personally?  I breast fed both mine for two equally simple reasons: 1. neither of the little bastards would take a bottle, and 2. breast feeding – which I hadn’t seriously considered doing but was willing to give it a go – really worked for me; being naturally haphazard and a bit forgetful, I found it a real bonus that I could never go out and forget to take my breasts.  Rest assured, however, that if it hadn’t worked for me – for any reason whatsoever – I’d have dropped it like a hot one. I know, I have no shame.

And, so we arrive back at ‘scientific studies’.  Yes, they’ll try and guilt trip a bottle feeder.  They’ll tell you useless stuff like your child will have one less ear infection a year which, sure, is good, but is in no way better for your baby than having a happy mother.  Or they’ll tell you a breast fed baby will perform marginally better on IQ tests than bottlers, which will sound important until you score yourself some Stephen J. Gould, and realise IQ tests are for shit anyway.

And to round it all off (thank christ I hear you mutter), this came along sometime after I’d weaned L’il Boo:

Six months of breastmilk alone is too long and could harm babies, scientists now say

Six months was the recommended time when L’il Boo was a babba.  I had the what were then new-ish guidelines in mind when I was thinking about weaning him.  Did I worry when the new study came out?  Of course not: I said I had them in mind; I didn’t follow them slavishly.  I responded to my baby according to his needs.  As long as breast milk seemed to satisfy him, I didn’t introduce solids.  When it started to look like he needed something more, I gave him more.

In the event, he actually went 5.5 months before gnashing down on broccoli florets (we followed baby-led weaning principles).  And is he showing signs of food allergies or iron deficiency (both cited by the study as possible effects of delayed introduction of solids)?  Nope, not so far but you know if he does?  I will be satisfied that I did the best I could given what I knew at the time.

What more can you ask for?

*I don’t really, but near enough.

How to Prove Anything

some scientific collaboration going down

As you know, we love science here in Boogieville.  However, as I’m sure you’ve also gathered, we also understand that bullshit is a virus that can infect anything.  Or, to put it another way, or in context (as you prefer), scientists are potentially as full of crap as anybody else and so they don’t get no free pass on the last helicopter leaving the stinking bullshit-crazed hordes for the land of bovine-free pastures.  Or something.  It’s late, OK?  Well, it’s not late but it’s been a vaccination day here in Boogieville, as in a real vaccination day not some faecal metaphor I’ve (badly) made up, and I always get crazy on vaccination day because the idea of deliberately injecting my kids with germy crap just makes me a bit hyper-active.  For want of a better word.  For the very reason that I don’t entirely trust doctors because they are as susceptible to bullshit as…etc etc.


My point* is this:

When you’re tempted to believe something just because it’s ‘science’, remember this:

Cigarettes may be useful for distance runners

Or: You can prove anything.  If you want to.  Or even if you don’t ‘want ‘ to but snakes curling around your subconscious do.

The review paper is a staple of medical literature and, when well executed by an expert in the field, can provide a summary of literature that generates useful recommendations and new conceptualizations of a topic.

‘However, if research results are selectively chosen, a review has the potential to create a convincing argument for a faulty hypothesis. Improper correlation or extrapolation of data can result in dangerously flawed conclusions.’ [emphasis mine]

And it may well be – and most often is – the case that the bias is subconscious and is simply a product of the prevailing cultural mores.

‘…take the phenomenon of “White Hat Bias“, where researchers distort “information in the service of what may be perceived to be righteous ends”. And even the most objective and ethical researcher is still going to be looking at data through their own world-view, which may cause them to miss something that is in the data, or to “see” something that isn’t really there.

This is something that Steven Jay Gould at least had a handle on (yes, I’m finally getting round to reading ‘The Mismeasure of Man’), though he’s not the only one.  And this is basically the whole bloody point of Cordelia Fine, but maybe now a man has said it (again), it’ll be regarded as a real thing rather than some shrieking-feminist-optical-illusion.

Most scientists, however, still don’t really get it.  They still think they can shrug off their prejudices when they shrug on their nice white lab coats, like the coat is some sort of super-hero cape that confers upon the wearer the power of super-objectivity.

As with the racism we’re all guilty of, you have to accept there’s a problem to find your way to a solution.  Scientists, like everybody, have to accept they do have bias; only then can they do their utmost to negate it. Otherwise, you’re just blowing smoke up your arse.

When you’re a raging misogyistic homophobe with a lifetime membership of the KKK who just happens to be a ‘scientist’,  just to say ‘I’m not biased, me’ does not actually remove your bias.  Amazing, I know, but TRUE nonetheless.

So when you’re next pondering an article that tells you you’ll never rule the world because women are more suited to ironing and that’s just the way it is, and you are considering thinking the article may be THE TRUTH, haul your running shoes on, spark up a fag and chainsmoke through a marathon, and see where ‘independently reviewed truth’ can get you.

Note: I really wouldn’t do this.  I suspect you might die.

*There is no real point to this post.  I just thought it was an interesting article.

Unbiased Science

A little gift for the naive amongst us who still believe the myth that science is unbiased.  This wonderful post from the equally wonderful Cordelia Fine about how the debate about sex differences in the brain is high-jacked by those who argue for innate differences between ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains.  As echidne nicely sums up, the criticism of those who argue that such differences are not, in fact, ‘innate’ at all, ‘[boils] down to the assumption that to have a null hypothesis of “no biological gender difference” is biased but to have as null hypothesis “a biological gender difference exists and most likely is to the advantage of men” is not biased but doing cold-blooded and unbiased science.

See?  You really can’t argue with biology; well, not if you’re female anyway.

No time to do a proper post, but read echidne’s and Fine’s posts…really, you won’t regret it!

Oh, How I Love The Daily Male

Despite loads and loads of stuff going round in my head at the moment – like: how could I have not seen the white, male, upper-class privileges whirling round Stephen Fry and instead found him whimsically amusing and faintly adorable?: how come Steve mcQueen can be used to advertise watches and everybody else see his image and thinks ‘cool’ and I think ‘wife-beater’? – I’m finding a coherent narrative hard to come by.  Swirly stuff that would end with, ‘but I digress’ I have shed loads of but even I can see that these swirls need a thread to turn them into a post.  So thank fuck for the Daily Male.

It is an article of faith with me that on any given day, should I be in need of conjuring a bit of righteous anger (not often necessary to artificially induce this, but still), I can always, guaranteed and without fail, rely on the Daily Male to supply it.  I came to this article of faith by virtue of my parents who live many miles away and visit only seldom, but always, always, come armed with a copy of the Daily Male, regarding it as a ‘good, informative read’ (I know, I know; safe to say I am regarded as an alien being by my parents).  It was therefore only on completely random and infrequent days that I flicked through a copy yet, however random and infrequent, my reaction was always the same.  It is, as we all know, a piece of work; worse even than The Sun which at least knows it’s a comic, rather than actually a newspaper.

The other day things were just a little too harmonious: the BoogieMeister and I were loved up, Boogie was behaving like an angel and L’il Boo was having a particularly long nap even for him.  Things were too fucking right with the world.  So I click open The Beast:

Oh, How I Love The Daily Male

And it’s good.  It’s pure.  Pure clap-trap.  It’s classic Male.  Just so you don’t actually have to bother reading it, The Male kindly summed up the whole article in one sentence: ‘Dr Catherine Hakim concludes that the battle for sexual equality is over and any pay gap is down to women’s lifestyle choices.

So short a sentence.  So much wrong with it.

OK, OK, so you can see from the date of the article that I’m using a bit of artistic licence here; I started this post last year (though it seems a bit bizarre to put it in those terms), but – I don’t know if you’ve noticed – it’s been Christmas and I always lose the plot a bit at that time of year.  I was going to do a short criticism of the article then swiftly realised that that wouldn’t be possible; the only thing that would do this bit of clap-trap justice would be a line-by-liner and, frankly, I have resolutions to plan (first one: make resolutions before the New Year), otherwise how am I going to know exactly how much I’ve failed come this time next year?  So y’all can read it and savage it at will (although, seriously, it’s too, too easy, candy-from-a-baby time or, as I Blame The Patriarchy would probably describe it, an exercise for ‘novice’ patriarchy blamers only), and I will limit myself to quoting one sentence; according to Dr. Hakim:

In Britain half of all women in senior positions are child-free, and a lot more of them have nominal families with a single child and they subcontract out the work of caring for them to other women.’

First off, commiserations to all those single children out there who have to deal with the knowledge that they are members of only ‘nominal‘ families.  Second off, let’s just see how that sentence works out for men:

In Britain half a small proportion of all women men in senior positions are child-free, and a lot more the vast majority of them have nominal families with a single child with any number of children and they subcontract out get all the work of caring for them to other women done for free by the significant women in their lives.’ Who they then divorce for a younger model and complain that ‘feminism has gone mad’ when said women demand a bit of cash recognition for devoting their lives to bringing up said men’s children and then being left below the poverty line as a result of their diminished work skills.

Too fucking right the battle for sexual equality is over.  What the fuck was I thunking?

Too, too easy.

Such was the basic idiocy of the article that I found myself thunking: who is this Dr. Catherine Hakim?

I wish I hadn’t.  I really do.  Because Hakim has a bit of form.

She is, apparently, a Senior Research Fellow (I bet she’s not arguing with that title) in the Sociology department of the LSE.  Amongst her ‘topics of interest’ is ‘women’s employment and theories of women’s position in society.

Hmm.  Now, I don’t know about you, but if I was even remotely interested in ‘women’s employment and theories of women’s position in society‘ I would feel behoven (yes, I suspect I’ve made that word up, too, but it sounds so…nice), to at least make enquiries as to whether there was, say, a whole movement utterly devoted to analysing ‘women’s position in society.’  I surely wouldn’t have to make many enquiries before stumbling across something called ‘feminism’.  You’d think, wouldn’t you?  Even if it was just by accident of the weird results you can get from a Google search.

Maybe Dr. hakim doesn’t own a computer.  Maybe she thinks that ‘feminism’ is actually a term invented by the Male meaning ‘harbinger of all evil’.  Who knows, but Dr. Hakim does seem to skim over the whole, boring bit about ‘reasons’ for stuff she concludes.

In an article for Prospect magazine Hakim expands on something called ‘erotic capital’ (a term she claims to have coined) and detailing how women ‘use’ it.  Her conclusion seems to be thus: proper economic capital be damned; women may have none of it, but bugger me, they’re ‘erotic’ and that’s just as good.  I paraphrase, of course, but that seems to be the basic jist (‘cept of course I inserted the bit about women having no actual economic capital).  And you can see her point, can’t you?  I mean the machinations of The Patriarchy means that whilst women do the work they sure as hell don’t hold the money but who gives a shit when you have ‘erotic’ capital?  Because then you just get a man to buy you a house and some diamonds instead, right?  So, we can all lie down and relax, girlies, because the equality war is so over.  And women, of course, are just better at being erotic; to quote:

Erotic capital goes beyond beauty to include sex appeal, charm and social skills, physical fitness and liveliness, sexual competence and skills in self-presentation, such as face-painting, hairstyles, clothing and all the other arts of self-adornment…Yet women have long excelled at such arts: that’s why they tend to be more dressed up than men at parties.’

Which is a bit like saying, Poor people excel at being able to resist the temptation to buy a Ferrari. Indisputably true, but kinda meaningless when your analysis only takes into account the amount of poor people who actually own a Ferrari, n’est-ce pas?  Maybe – just maybe, ’cause I don’t want to be dogmatic here – the number of poor people owning Ferraris is influenced by something other than just poor people being better at managing the urge to buy a fast, shiny car?  Or am I missing something?  No, I’m really not.  But somebody is.   

And, in a nice twist, she just keeps going.  She is quoted in yet another Daily Male article today. 

More Clap-Trap

This woman’s like the bloody Duracell bunny.