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The Mothering.com Bait and Switch (part 1 of 2) PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Michael Blanford   

mothering_coverMothering Magazine and Mothering.com are probably unfamiliar to most of our readers. That doesn’t mean they haven’t played a key role in a topic of interest to many skeptics—the anti-vaccination movement. Mothering is a widely read parenting magazine with over a hundred thousand readers that focuses on “natural” parenting. Its online counterpart hosts the largest parenting community found anywhere on the internet. Mothering describes itself innocently enough as:

“celebrating the experience of parenthood as worthy of one's best efforts and fosters awareness of the immense importance and value of parenthood and family life in the development of the full human potential. As a readers' magazine, we recognize parents as the experts and wish to provide truly helpful information upon which parents can base informed choices.”

All of that sounds just great until we get to the parts about “helpful information” and “informed choices.” The problem is that Mothering does anything but help parents make informed choices. In fact, Mothering is one of the loudest and most effective distributors of dangerous pseudoscientific misinformation on the newsstand or the internet.

There are plenty of books, magazines, and websites that spread inaccurate and/or biased information. The most dangerous, however, are those that do so under the guise of delivering balanced information based on all the available evidence. This is very much the case at Mothering Magazine and its associated forums and with no topic is this more true than with vaccination safety.

 

For new or potential parents, a quick Google search of vaccination safety will lead to the Mothering forums. They appear at first glance to be a parent-focused and civil place to strip away the politics and get real answers to vaccination questions. A closer investigation reveals the mixed message to be found at Mothering.com. Take a look at the disclaimer permanently posted on their extremely active vaccination forum (several hundred thousand posts).

We embrace all parents, regardless of their choice. We uphold the Vaccinations forum as a place where they can come and discuss all aspects of all vaccinations, and find support in their desire to make an informed decision to not vaccinate, to vaccinate, to selectively vaccinate, or to delay vaccinations.

This would be just fine if the forum had anything to do with informed decisions. That is made clear by the active policy that has pro-vaccination posts immediately removed by moderators (test it if you don’t believe me). You have to dig a little deeper into the forum policies to find the paragraph that reads:

Recently, we have seen several members join MDC who seem to have an agenda to promote vaccinations. Though Mothering does not take a pro or anti stand on vaccinations, we will not host threads on the merits of mandatory vaccine, or a purely pro vaccination view point as this is not conducive to the learning process.

The message here is “we support all parents’ decisions as long they are the same as ours.” How can they claim to offer both sides of the story yet ban posts arguing for one of the two sides? How exactly is shielding readers from pro-vaccination positions conducive to the learning process?

The result of this misguided policy is a massive source of anti-vaccination hysteria that gives a venue for a vigorous defense of Andrew Wakefield and his fraudulent “research” while not allowing a pediatrician to make a well-reasoned and evidence-based case for vaccination.

Shame on Mothering for luring well-intentioned information-seeking parents into their forums only to give them tightly controlled content loaded with pseudoscience and ideology. If you have an agenda to promote, at least be honest and make that clear to readers who just are trying to do what’s best for their children.

Sadly, vaccination issues aren’t the only ones being misrepresented through careful management of the Mothering.com forums. The same deceptive practices are being used to promote homeopathy, unassisted homebirth, and even HIV denial. More on that in part 2...

 

Michael Blanford is Director of Educational Programs for the James Randi Educational Foundation.

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Comments (15)Add Comment
Ask them why they are so one sided?
written by Gord_in_Toronto, January 07, 2011
Could someone from the Foundation ask the Mothers in writing why they are so one sided?

The response might be amusing and/or could be used to further publicize the issue. The Press, belatedly, seems to be interested in Wakefield and his discredited study.

Gord
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written by kooolaidred, January 07, 2011
Great article! I've wondered when someone was going to finally take on mothering for their bizarre moderation policies and outright refusal to allow common sense posts when they aren't in line with the established belief systems. Their home birthing disturb me to no end.
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written by AlexK, January 08, 2011
There's a lot of craziness there - Birth & Beyond, particularly the unassisted childbirth forum is one, as koolaidred noted. Thanks for pointing this out; I hope parents find this post as well.
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Old news
written by Orac, January 08, 2011
Sadly, Mothering.com has been at this a long time. For instance, here's a selection from nearly six years ago that I noted:

http://oracknows.blogspot.com/2005/07/if-you-think-its-just-about-mercury.html

Mothering.com is a hotbed of HIV/AIDS denialism, as well:

http://oracknows.blogspot.com/2005/09/this-is-what-im-talking-about.html
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Unnatural?
written by peterwbarber, January 08, 2011
Looks as if unnatural mothering is still best.
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written by AlexisT, January 08, 2011
I've been sporadically active on Mothering over the past few years (I should know better). That response is even more disingenuous than the reality. Pro-vaccination posting is a fast track to banning, even if you don't argue in favor of mandatory vaccination. They regularly sanitize and return threads. There is a forum called "I'm Not Vaccinating" where anti-vaxers cannot be challenged, but there's no policy of stopping the anti-vaxers in the Selective and Delayed forum (which is also meant to be supportive). This has all been going on for years, but it's stepped up recently.
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WOW!
written by CasaRojo, January 08, 2011
Unbelievable! I am continually amazed...
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written by george152, January 08, 2011
I hate to put it this way but it appears to me to be evolution in action smilies/sad.gif
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written by Squid, January 08, 2011
The only problem with "evolution in action" is that it could kill a LOT of innocent kids... not to mention seeing the return of scourges such as polio. I'd rather not go back to the days of the iron lung, regardless of parents' rights.
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Not much help from evolution here.
written by Bruno, January 09, 2011
Killing carriers of certain memes or their offspring is not an efficient way of driving memetic evolution, unless the memes are solely passed vertically. Memes that are transmitted vertically must have a positive effect on the number of surviving offspring because they are carried in the same way as genes (parent to child). Typical "vertical memes" are prohibition against birth control, a requirement to have large families, prohibition against homosexuality etc.

Conversely, genes that confer a disadvantage onto the carrier (in terms of offspring) can only spread horizontally (media, mouth-to-mouth). The only selection pressure they place on genes are against gullibility. Unfortunately, the ability to accept knowledge by mere word of mouth (also called learning) happens to be the very thing that explains our success as a species. You wouldn't want to select against the ability to learn. Instead, educate, educate and keep informal channels of "education" out of the hands of people with an agenda.

In normal words, vertically spreading memes are called traditions while horizontally spreading memes are called fads or revolutions. Societies with low mobility and few information channels transmit mainly vertically. Throughout history, technology has increasingly eased horizontal spreading memes, changing the kinds of memes that can spread successfully entirely. With the internet, the dynamics has changed completely and the results are very hard to predict.
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written by William, January 12, 2011
Ok, I lasted 3 days. From my first warning 1 hour after I posted, my account has been removed from Mothering.com. At least they gave me "warnings" first. My infraction? Read my last

William,

It is clear based on your post history that you have joined with the intention of showing members the errors of their ways and are posting to take direct issue with others, and this is considered agenda-posting. Two of your three posts have resulted in infractions.

We will not tolerate new members who come to this forum with a focused agenda. This is a community forum and all members will be expected to demonstrate and maintain their community participation and not an agenda-focused manner of posting. Members are invited to report any such agenda-focused behavior. We will certainly uphold the integrity of the forum and restrict such behavior.

We expect and insist that all members post here with an open mind and a willingness to learn - even from the new member. There should be an understanding that a large number of Mothering community members are against vaccinations so when you do come here to post to ask your questions, and you have an intention to vaccinate, members here will feel a need to inform you of the concerns about vaccinations. While no one should be labeled as irresponsible or uninformed for deciding to vaccinate, neither should parents here who have chosen to not vaccinate be accused of irresponsibility, not caring for their child, or presenting a threat to others.

All of your posts appear to be pro-mandatory vaccination and this is not in keeping with our board policy.

We are not interested, however, in hosting discussions on the merits of crying it out, harsh sleep training, physical punishment, formula feeding, elective cesarean section, routine infant medical circumcision, or mandatory vaccinations. We do not tolerate any type of discrimination in the discussions, including but not limited to racism, heterosexism, classism, sizeism, religious bigotry, or discrimination toward the disabled. We will not host discussions that involve explicit sexual references and are cautious about discussions on volatile topics such as abortion, religion and race. We do not host abortion debate. See statement of purpose below:

MDC serves an online community of parents, families, and parent, child and family advocates considering, learning, practicing, and advocating attachment parenting and natural family living. Our discussions concern the real world of mothering and are first and foremost, for support, information, and community. Mothering invites you to read and participate in the discussions. In doing so we ask that you agree to respect and uphold the integrity of this community. Through your direct or indirect participation here you agree to make a personal effort to maintain a comfortable and respectful atmosphere for our guests and members.

I am closing your account. MDC questions vaccination, and based on your posts, it appears that you believe there is nothing to question and have joined in an attempt to create discord amongst members. I'm very sorry for the inconvenience, but I ask that you find another community more welcoming of your pro-vaccination stance.


I didn't promote anything other than the truth. Straight facts and verifiable statistics. Poo-poo.
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We will not tolerate new members who come to this forum with a focused agenda...
written by gr8white, January 12, 2011
...unless it agrees with our focused agenda.
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written by William, January 18, 2011
What is even sadder is that I was unable to engage in an intelligent discussion on the hypocrisy of their policies. Before I could even reply, the account was deleted.

I have about 2 dozen e-mails in my name. Should I register each of them and slam them?
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written by Starthinker, January 18, 2011
When is Part 2?
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just wrong's on this page here
written by JAcerLifeOflife666, March 02, 2011
some get that they do just what an they thought, no one has
care a'bout no like the say people have on Web they take reason in: there
self of any reason the they had thought of this"
some don't learn what they lose on but
we don't care for this money way out this life. .. P1.2
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