Earlier this week Canadian news paper The Globe & Mail printed an article "The Tyranny of Mothers Milk" by Margaret Wente that made Lactivists and Breastfeeding Advocates literally see red. In the article Wente rants about the fact that in Canada, public-health officials have mounted an "aggressive campaign" to boost the rate of breastfeeding, and that new mothers are "bombarded" with the message that breast milk is crucial for their baby’s health. She alleges that women who were unable to breastfeed were made to feel "that failing to nurse their babies was tantamount to child abuse". A few weeks earlier Dr. Brian Goldman, who hosts a CBC radio show called White Coat, Black Art. tackled the subject of mothers who had trouble nursing. Wente goes on to say:
Dr. Goldman wants the bullying to stop. It’s unfair to moms who can’t breastfeed – and also potentially harmful to their babies. Some heretics go further. They argue that the benefits of mother’s milk have been vastly overblown.I'll comment on Joan Wolfs anti-breastfeeding statements in the article in a moment, but first I want to focus on the information that INFACT had to say about Wentes dishonest and deliberately misleading quotes that she includes in her article to try to support her notions that breastfeeding bullies are trying to spin a web of guilt onto mothers.
“The evidence to date suggests it probably doesn’t make much difference if you breastfeed,” says Joan Wolf,
the author of a daring book called Is Breast Best? Ms. Wolf, an American academic, has examined the medical literature in detail. The science clearly shows that breastfeeding provides babies with some protection against gastrointestinal infections. Beyond that, the evidence for the sweeping claims made by the advocates for breast milk just doesn’t exist. And women like Teena Campbell have been sold the biggest mommy-guilt trip of all time.
Ms. Wolf is not alone in saying that moms are being misled. One of the world’s most authoritative sources of breastfeeding research is Michael Kramer,
professor of pediatrics at McGill University. “The public health breastfeeding promotion information is way out of date,” he says. The trouble is that the breastfeeding lobby is at war with the formula milk industry, and neither side is being very scientific. “When it becomes a crusade, people are not very rational.”
Margaret Wente, plagiarism and misquotation?
May 24, 2011HERE to read the entire articleAs already discussed here, in “The Tyranny of mother’s milk,” not only does Margaret Wente sprinkle her text with un-attributed quotes, the apparent borrowing extends to surrounding material; one paragraph contains significant overlap with the words of another journalist who she does not credit. Of Wente’s sixty-four word paragraph, only a third is actual quotation comment from McGill’s Dr. Michael Kramer in a 2009 Times article. Turns out this is problematical in more ways than one. But first, to recap that bit:
Wente: One of the world’s most authoritative sources of breastfeeding research is Michael Kramer, professor of pediatrics at McGill University. “The public health breastfeeding promotion information is way out of date,” he says. The trouble is that the breastfeeding lobby is at war with the formula milk industry, and neither side is being very scientific. “When it becomes a crusade, people are not very rational.”
Rumbelow: one of the world’s most authoritative sources of breastfeeding research: Michael Kramer, professor of paediatrics at McGill University, Montreal.“The public health breastfeeding promotion information is way out of date,” Kramer says. The trouble is, he said, that the breastfeeding lobby is at war with the formula milk industry, and “neither side is being very scientific ... when it becomes a crusade, people are not very rational.”Look at those passages closely; Wente slides the quotation marks over, shortening the quote and therebypresenting as her own prose what in Rumbelow’s article were words (in quotation marks) by Dr. Michael Kramer a kind of double failure to attribute.But there are other problems with Wente’s use of this material:Rumbelow’s is a 2009 first person opinion (not a report) about the British National Health Service’s breastfeeding pamphlet, which (her article says) she received “last year”. It appears that Dr. Kramer of McGill was asked to comment on a British NHS pamphlet from 2008 (Rumbelow writes: “with my NHS leaflet in hand, I put its list of health benefits to Kramer”). But Wente, in omitting this context and inserting the material in an article about breastfeeding here, leads readers to believe the Montreal doctor views Canada’s 2011 “public health breastfeeding promotion information” as “out of date”.Worse, a quick search turns up the following article in the British Independent, in which Dr. Kramer repudiates the “misquotation” by Rumbelow. Wente, as a well paid columnist on the same side of the Atlantic as Kramer, might have taken the trouble to contact him, rather than use old quotes in an opinion about the British NHS which he had since disavowed.Here’s an article about the Kramer misquotation in The Independent:‘Journalists certainly have the right to express their own opinions, but not to misquote experts they choose to interview in order to support those opinions. That sort of sensationalist journalist would not surprise me from the tabloids, but I had expected better from The Atlantic and The Times,’ Kramer said last night.The Times quoted Kramer, who is based at McGill University, Montreal, as saying there was ‘very little evidence’ breastfeeding reduces the risk of a range of diseases from leukaemia to heart disease. Yet, what he actually said was: ‘The existing evidence suggests that breastfeeding may protect against the risk of leukaemia, lymphoma, inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, heart disease and blood pressure.’ All he did concede was that we need ‘more and better studies to pursue these links’, a common cry from academics lacking in funding.***Dr. Kramer’s published views include the following, which appeared in the Globe and Mail:‘Our study provides the strongest evidence to date that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding makes kids smarter,’ said lead investigator Michael Kramer, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at McGill.So aside from Wente’s failure to attribute, there are factual problems resulting from her methods. It’s alarming to think of how such practices might be used to provide inaccurate information.Wente’s overlaps with Rumbelow go beyond the borrowed misquotes of Dr. Kramer. But even if it were limited to quotes themselves, experts view such practices as plagiarism......
Sensationalism sells news papers, and when you add to that a famous name like Joan Wolf you can almost guarantee to get peoples attention. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing except that Joan Wolf is a radically anti-breastfeeding feminist with an agenda. Ms Wolf has recently written a new book and is aggressively promoting it, using the media and sensationalistic statements to increase sales. Wente quotes Joan Wolf to try to further support her claims that breastfeeding is not all it's cracked up to be: “The evidence to date suggests it probably doesn’t make much difference if you breastfeed,”.... A completely unsubstantiated claim to say the least.
A few months ago Breastfeeding Advocate Emma Kwasnica went head-to-head with Joan Wolf on this very subject on the Kim Fraser radio show on CJAD in Montreal. While it was unfortunate that Wolf was given the lions share of air time, I was tickled pink when the first caller to address comments to Wolf was none other than our hero Dr. Jack Newman. Jack debunked wolfs entire book with a few well educated and informed comments that made her look ridiculous, which put a huge smile on my face.
While Wente and Wolf want to wish it wasn't true, every medical association in the world acknowledges that breastmilk is the healthiest food for babies. The effects of breastfeeding on babies lasts not only through infancy with fewer incidents of respiratory, ear and intestinal illnesses, but more and more studies are showing that these protective effects last into adulthood. More importantly, studies clearly show that the risks of feeding infants commercial infant formulas radically increases their risks of many diseases that last a lifetime. For more information about the risks of formula feeding please read INFACT Canada's handout "The 14 Risks of Formula Feeding"
Wente and Wolf can rant and rave about "breastfeeding guilt" and can point fingers at all those medical associations that are forcing mothers to breastfeed, and guilting them into doing something they don't wish to do. They can try to put the guilt of failed breastfeeders onto the shoulders of breastfeeding advocates who's prime goal is to educate and help mothers establish and maintain a great breastfeeding relationship with their children..... but it doesn't change the fact that breastfeeding is normal and that formula feeding is not only less healthy than breastmilk, but also carries risks that can last a life time. If mothers feel guilty for not being able to breastfeed their babies, they should place the blame where it belongs: on the shoulders of the medical professionals that are ill equipped, under educated, and misinformed about breastfeeding and therefore unable to fully support breastfeeding mothers to reach their breastfeeding goals. Many more mothers will fail to nurse their babies as long as they originally planned, because they do not have the support and help they need. Until Health Canada recognizes this and changes the system of non-support that is currently in place mothers will continue to feel the guilt of failure. Put the blame where it belongs.