Search This Blog

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Plagiarism & Misquotation in the Media

When I woke up this morning to read INFACT Canada's latest news letter I knew this was something that needed to be shared.  
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.
“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 “The public health breastfeeding promotion information is way out of date,” he says.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.” 
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.

Margaret Wente, plagiarism and misquotation?

by Carol Wainio
May 24, 2011
As 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......
HERE to read the entire article

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. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Conflict of Interest

We are suppose to be able to trust our governments.  Trust the medical professionals that give us information and recommendations about our health and trust the major associations that advise the public and our governing bodies when they are making decisions and statements.  I know that the vast majority of the John and Jane Doe's are perfectly happy to blindly follow the professionals that supposedly have our best interests at heart, but there are still a few thinking humans out there and we are seriously concerned.  

When you read the fine print and do your homework it becomes blatantly clear that such faith in the assumed omnipotence of these professionals and their associations is questionable at best.  "Conflict of  Interest" is rife in our governments and professional associations.  So much so that the question becomes "Who do you trust?"

CBC and other news agencies have spent months tracking down the truth about Tamiflu, the Be-all, End-all for dealing with the H1N1 flu virus..... or so they tried to convince us. The Canadian government stockpiled nearly $180 MILLION dollars worth of anti-viral drugs (mostly Tamiflu), and now a good portion of it is about to expire. Yep, Millions of dollars are about to be thrown out.  Why do we have these stockpiles of drugs and are they even worth it is the question the CBC and other media reporters are asking.  Why? Because the truth is that there is a HUGE conflict of interest that is deeply rooted at the centre of all this.

The CBC reports:

A CBC documentary, which was broadcast on The National on Monday night, reports that certain other researchers in Canada, Italy, Britain and the U.S. are now challenging the claims by Roche that Tamiflu can significantly reduce complications or hospitalizations due to the flu.
The documentary also raises concerns about possible side effects surrounding the drug — strange behaviours and psychiatric delusions — that some countries, Japan in particular, have reported.
Using freedom of information requests, the investigation found hundreds of similar cases in Canada and the U.S., which were reported to health authorities but have not been made public.
It’s often difficult to establish a clear causal link between a drug and rare adverse reactions. Roche says its research suggests that these side effects result from the flu itself and high fevers, not the medication.
In the course of the CBC investigation, Zalac also reported that three of Canada's most prominent flu experts — Dr. Donald Low and Dr. Allison McGeer of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and Dr. Fred Aoki of the University of Manitoba — had received research funding or acted as a consultant or speaker for Roche during the period when Tamiflu was being promoted....
...But these relationships were rarely reported in broader public forums, in the media or even when some of these individuals would appear in marketing videos or flu-warning commercials on television produced by Roche.

Conflict of Interest is a disease that riddles our entire government and the decision makers that we presume are looking out for the best interests of the people they are advising: Us. I have written several articles about the various xxxx that have been reported in the media, yet ignored by the public for the most part:

But Conflict of Interest isn't just about the flu, it happens in all aspects of the health industry!  WHO and UNICEF have both been targeted as having undisclosed conflicts of interest. As a matter of fact just recently  Ann Veneman, Unicef executive director from 2005 to 2010, joined forces with the evil Nestlé board of directors. This LINK  shows the implications of her shocking career move from an organisation that supports breastfeeding to one that undermines breastfeeding.
And then there is the recent call for submissions from the Health Canada Committee in charge of rewriting the guidelines "Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Birth to Six Months". Appalled by the fact that Health Canada left us with less than one month for the public and stakeholder groups to write their response to their draft document, we scrambled to gather our information and to petition HC for an extension of the deadline (which we did successfully).  While writing their response, Elizabeth Sterkin of INFACT Canada uncovered the committees dirty laundry: 3 of the members of the committee have ties to Infant formula and infant food companies.  Yet nowhere in their draft document or the information about the members of the committee does Health Canada reveal these conflicts of interest to the public or to stakeholder groups.  To not disclose this information when HC tries to make statements that if a mother is unable to breastfeed, commercial infant formula is her only option: ""Commercial infant formulas are the only acceptable alternative to breastmilk.".... hmmmmm.... no mention of donor milk or banked breastmilk.  Just formula.  Still think that conflicts of interest like this don't shape policies?
We need to stand up for our rights to have full disclosure and to have access to information to make informed choices that are not influenced by people that are motivated by financial gain.  We need to tell our governments that these conflicts of interest need to be fully disclosed to the public so that they KNOW where the information  is coming from and how commercialism and the mighty dollar might be twisting that information for their own gain.  
Accountability is not just an empty word.  It must be followed by action. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mother-to-mother human-milk sharing: what’s not to like?

This is a fantastic guest post from, James Akre. I'm hoping to have lots more of his amazing words to post here in the future!!! 

In May last year I was privileged to deliver the GOLD10 inaugural presentation, which was called: What is the problem with breastfeeding? I concluded with ten proposals for immediate action, for example the need to stop referring to breastfeeding as ‘best feeding’ and define it rather as ‘normal feeding’; and to cease talking about ‘the benefits of breastfeeding’ and focus instead on ‘the risks of not breastfeeding’.

My next-to-last proposal was in two parts: evaluating ‘the amount and value of human milk produced and consumed worldwide’, and ensuring that ‘human-milk banks become a routine component of healthcare infrastructure everywhere’.

The model I had in mind was the classic community blood bank. In a bit more than a century since such banks began functioning, they have become as ordinary as they are indispensable.

I don’t know how you see it, but from both a practical and historical perspective, what began to surface only six months ago – Internet-based, non-commercial, mother-to-mother human-milk sharing – strikes me as being a bit like the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or the Arab Awakening of 2011.

If you think I’m being melodramatic, consider the totally unforeseen consequences of the act of one mother, in October 2010, searching on line for breast milk for her child. Here we are, six months later, with a vast and still-growing milk-sharing system in place in some 50 countries on all continents.

Despite its popularity – indeed, owing to its popularity – this contemporary variation on a practice that is as old as our species has become the focus of stern criticism and woeful warning from public health authorities, notably Health Canada, the French agency Afssaps, and the United States Food and Drug Administration. What is going on here? This is how I would describe the current state of play.

On the one hand, media reports suggest a convergence of well-informed and highly motivated women extending their control over the availability and use of human milk. Caregivers of babies who need breast milk are connecting with mothers who are able to donate breast milk using two Facebook-based networks, Eats On Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies.

These networks provide a platform for women to share their milk in a safe, ethical manner. This is done in the belief that they are capable of making informed choices, free of coercion; taking into account information on the benefits and risks; and reducing exposure to pathogens, including by pasteurisation. The overriding operative principle is that all who are involved in milk-sharing take full responsibility for their individual course of action and its outcome.

On the other hand, the formal position staked out by some public health authorities and health professionals can be summarised in three short words: Just say no! Why this dogmatic view?

Well, for starters, it’s the easiest way to reduce to zero milk-sharing’s inherent health risks. But this approach fails to take account of the inherent health risks of a child not receiving breast milk, which appear to have got entirely lost in the shuffle. It is rather a question of relative risk and how to manage it and minimise potential harm.

Despite the mass of scientific and epidemiological evidence to the contrary, in far too many environments breast milk and breastfeeding continue to be seriously undervalued, even as the nutritional merits and supposed safety of infant formula are greatly exaggerated. In these circumstances, infant formula is perceived as the ‘obvious’ alternative to a mother’s milk. But as we observe the rapid, and geographically and culturally diverse, expansion of mother-to-mother human-milk sharing, it is clear that growing numbers of mothers are radically dissenting from this unphysiological status quo.

In demonstrating their heightened awareness about how their babies should be nourished, these mothers are also giving eloquent expression to the World Health Organization’s infant-feeding recommendation, with its explicit nutritional hierarchy, that has been in place since 1986: milk at the mother’s breast; expressed milk from a baby’s own mother; milk from another healthy mother; banked human milk; and, lastly, infant formula. This is just one of the reasons why I always define formula not as the best alternative to a mother’s milk but as the least-bad alternative.

It’s hardly surprising that some in the public health and medical establishment regard this Internet-based milk-sharing model as a challenge, even a threat. It certainly has the right ingredients: a system that operates outside its influence, that can’t be regulated, and where mothers alone exercise control. But rather than resisting and dismissing it out of hand, the constructive approach would be to engage in ways that help make it as safe as possible.

Before closing I would like to return briefly to what I said, during GOLD10 and a few minutes ago, about ensuring that ‘human-milk banks become a routine component of healthcare infrastructure everywhere’. In the light of the mother-to-mother milk-sharing model described above, I want to assure you that I am no less enthusiastic about this proposal today than I was a year ago. If anything, I think it has become still clearer to me why it is so important.

It is at best naïve and uninformed, and at worst intellectually dishonest and culpable, to discourage mother-to-mother milk sharing while instructing mothers to stick with traditional human-milk banks, which follow a careful protocol designed to protect babies. Reality contradicts this dismissive injunction. According to reports, on a good day milk banks manage to cover no more than half the actual demand. Thus, they wisely husband available milk for the most vulnerable babies, especially the very sick and premature. But at US$3-5 a fluid ounce or about 30 ml, even if milk were available, few parents could afford such luxury.

Some observers appear to be anxious that mother-to-mother milk sharing threatens the few under-supplied banks. I don’t have the evidence to demonstrate it, but I am inclined to believe that expanding direct human-milk sharing might well spur human-milk banking by increasing awareness of the significance and availability of women’s milk, persuading more mothers to donate, and thereby increasing the number of banks and available milk volume.

Thus, I see mother-to-mother milk sharing as complementary to donor milk banking and not its competitor. Let us resolve to do everything we possibly can to ensure that this is always the case.

  * * *

1 Commentary prepared by James Akre, Geneva Switzerland, and delivered on line during GOLD11 (Global Online Lactation Discussion) on 13 May 2011