Friday, April 15, 2011

International Ask an Atheist Day

I know this event was aimed at campus freethought groups, but I figured why not do my part. I'm a big believer in normalizing mistrusted fringe groups by as many people as possible being public about it. Works for nursing in public, works for atheism!

So I printed out a couple stickers to wear, and I changed my Facebook profile picture to the sticker and put up a status welcoming questions.

I was very disappointed with the non-reactions to my stickers. I wore them at the YMCA, but no one asked me any questions. Facebook didn't yield much more. My best friend asked me if I think people are intrinsically good or bad (short answer: yes), and we had a bit of a conversation with another friend who jumped in and confirmed she was an atheist. So it was cool to realize that other friend was a non-believer. And another freethinking friend said she liked my picture.

And that was it.

Well, wearing the sticker did have one big effect: I was exceedingly polite all day. I'm naturally very friendly and courteous, but I was certainly more aware than usual of trying to project a positive image. Perhaps we should all wear nametags identifying our cherished group memberships - as representatives we would probably all be nicer to each other!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Speaking of eating placentas . . .

When some folks I know started talking about having their babies' placentas made into pills so the mother could ingest them, I asked the obvious question - why would you want to do that?

Answers were passionate and certain, full of bare assertion and lacking all but the slightest actual justification:

"prevents post partum depression and helps with milk production!"

"give you back your energy too"

"all the hormones that your body needs...its like your own specialized concoction of vitamins and hormones that are made especially for you"

"I think that every mammal eats the placenta after birth... the placenta holds all the vitamins that the... body is depleted of during pregnancy, so it makes sense to put those back into the body after birth"

One person linked to a blog post that had this citation:

"181 out of 210 women who were given dried placenta to increase milk supply had positive results and saw an increase in their milk supply.
Placenta as a Lactagogon; Gynaecologia 138: 617-627, 1954"

Now, first let me say, if you would like to consume your baby's placenta on the off chance it will do you good, I suppose you should go for it. I don't see much harm. If it does nothing, you'll lose some money to a professional encapsulator. Of course safe handling is important, just like with raw beef or chicken or whatever. But really, whatever floats your boat.

I'll also grant that it's possible that placentophagy could have some benefits. It's not completely ridiculous, the way homeopathy is. It's at least feasible that recouping iron and hormones could be beneficial.

But here's my problem - this is at best a hypothesis. It's testable, but hasn't really been tested (as far as I can tell, that study didn't use a control group, and the sample is small to boot). It's a pretty big leap from "animals do this" and "it contains hormones" to "ingesting dried placenta prevents depression and low milk supply."

And why are people so eager to make that leap? Because it's "natural." You won't see this wide-eyed credulity when it comes to vaccines, for damn sure. People who avoid ingesting acetaminophen or corn syrup jump at the chance to chow down on placenta, because that's what sheep do. It just doesn't make sense to me. And I'm worried about the general mentality because it leads to distrust of science-based medicine and encourages faith in altmed woo.