Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Homebirth advocacy and vaccine rejection

It is not surprising that homebirth advocacy and vaccine rejection go hand in hand. They are based on similar factual errors and errors in thinking. A list of these errors is instructive:

Lack of historical knowledge: Both homebirth advocacy and vaccine rejection are based on the fact that if ordinary people haven't seen something, they feel free to assume that it doesn't exist. The average person living in a first world country has no direct experience with birth prior to modern obstetrics and no direct experience with the major infectious diseases. Since they are also unaware of historical evidence, they feel free to pretend or even believe that childbirth is inherently safe or that major infectious diseases do not pose much of a risk. There is no homebirth advocacy in countries with high neonatal and maternal mortality rates and there is no anti-vaccination movement in countries that still suffer from major infectious diseases. Individuals with direct experience of childbirth in nature or with direct experience of major infectious diseases would never claim that childbirth is inherently safe or that major infectious diseases do not pose much of a risk.

Lack of knowledge about science: Both homebirth advocacy and vaccine rejection involve ignorance of basic principles of science and statistics. Proponents of homebirth and vaccine rejection have no way to independently evaluate the claims that they read. They decide what to think based on how much they like or admirer the person who is telling them what to think. If that person is lying, they have no way to know.

Misperception of risk: Both homebirth advocacy and vaccination rejection are based on misperception of risk. Proponents of homebirth and vaccination grossly overestimate the risks of hospital birth and grossly underestimate the risks of forgoing modern technology. They even appear to have trouble understanding the actual numbers. The fact that homebirth has a much greater risk of death than epidural anesthesia does not stop homebirth advocates from claiming that homebirth is safe and epidurals are dangerous. The fact that the risk of severe injury or death from a major infectious disease is literally more than 1000 TIMES higher than the risk of major injury or death from the vaccine. Yet that reality does not stop antivaccine proponents from asserting that not vaccinating is safer than vaccinating.

Homebirth and antivaccination advocates take advantage of these three serious deficiencies in knowledge and thinking (lack of historical knowledge, lack of scientific knowledge and misperception of risk) to convince well meaning parents to expose their children to increased danger.

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