Skeptical Fails and Wins This Week

Hey there skeptifans. Here are the media Fails and Wins you sent me this week.

Baby On Bed
Anna sent in this win from Slate, discussing bed sharing with infants. Actress and PhD Mayam Bialik released a parenting book encouraging the practice, but Slate points out the risks associated with it. Parenting is one of those domains where women (the target audience of most parenting literature) are often told to appeal to their instincts rather than examine the evidence. It’s a shame to have a celebrity with a background in science encourage that same type of thinking.

Withey: Dr. Google not always best source, Edmonton parents advised
Lorne found this parenting win in the Edmonton Journal. A pediatrician discusses why turning to google for health advice can be dangerous. The article is a win for recommending double blind studies, observational research, and expert consensus – in that order.

Study finds little cancer risk in cell phones
Paul sent in this Win. A recent study on brain cancer and cell phones found little evidence of a link, and called into question a recent Swedish study that made headlines all over the world for suggesting there was a connection. If the other study garnered so much attention, where was the media frenzy around this study? “Every thing is probably fine, just keep going about your business” isn’t the most provocative headline. Unfortunately, scientific work that falls in that category often gets under-reported. It’s nice to see that this study did make it into the news.

University of Lethbridge takes $2 million for a chair in Complementary and Alternative Health Care.
Jim sent in this story. Sunflower seed mogul, Dr. Tom Droog, donated a lot of money to the U of Lethbridge to establish a professorship in Complementary and Alternative health care. According to the press release, “The professorship will enable evidence-based research to explore the issues and care practices associated with complementary and alternative medicine.” Let’s hope the money gets used to do just that.

Did you spot a media Fail or Win? Send it to me at

7 Responses to “Skeptical Fails and Wins This Week”

  1. Bogeymama says:

    Thought it was odd for the U of L to start this program – they have neither a medicine or a pharmacy program, and only offer a vague grad program in Health Sciences – just who will be doing the research?

  2. I suppose it will feed right into the schools of naturopathy. They require an undergrad degree, and with this there wouldn’t be any science to unlearn.

  3. Skeptic fail on the bed sharing. After going into a lot of detail about how bedsharing is dangerous because parents are smoking, drinking, or loading up on bedding, the article then dismisses bedsharing as bad. Well, wouldn’t the logical conclusion be that smoking, drinking, and loading up on bedding while bedsharing is bad? Kinda like how crib sleeping is bad if you fill the crib with stuffed animals?

    Full disclosure, I bedshare with my one-year-old son, and have since he was about two weeks old. The reason was that he was a pretty intense feeder, wanting to nurse pretty much every hour. I would get up over and over again throughout the night, pick him up out of the crib, and sit in our armchair to nurse him. I was so exhausted that one night, I fell asleep. I woke with a start just as he was falling out of my arms, on course to hit the floor head first. It was clear that our sleep arrangement was NOT safe, even though he was in a crib, because it prevented me from getting the sleep I needed to properly take care of him.

    So we got rid of the bed and put our (already fairly firm) mattress on the floor. We invested in some warm PJs to wear so we didn’t need blankets and we packed the pillows up in the linen closet. Because bedsharing allowed me to nurse without having to get up, I was getting all the sleep I needed to actually function as a parent.

    The statistics on bedsharing are problematic. If you look at whole populations, which include drunks, people on drugs, and smokers, yeah, it’s safer to keep babies away from them. But even if you ignore those, the sad irony of the stats is that they would count me falling asleep in my armchair while nursing my son as “co-sleeping.” Had something happened, that would have actually counted AGAINST bedsharing in the statistics, even though it was caused by us putting him in the crib to sleep.

    So yeah, skeptic fail. Bedsharing is perfectly safe if done safely, but information about doing it safely absolutely needs to be more common – in the same way that soon-to-be parents are now given so much information about keeping cribs safe. Ultimately, though, once you get rid of all the confounding factors (such as parental drug use), the risks associated with bedsharing pretty much disappear. And even though the article does mention this at the very end, there’s just no excuse for all the fear mongering for the majority of her e-ink space.

  4. Composer99 says:


    Do you have any quantified analysis of the statistics showing, when toxic substance use and bed composition is accounted for, that bed sharing has comparable safety profile to crib sleeping?

    In the absence of such analysis I do not think it is fair to refer to the Slate article as fearmongering.

    To be fair, Slate states

    Some studies do suggest some benefits.

    without actually providing cites/references.

    However, I think you are missing out on the most important part of the Slate article’s criticisms, in the conclusion: that Mayim Bialik is strongly advocating for co-sleeping without sufficiently addressing how to go about it properly. One might say that this is not Bialik’s responsibility, but I suggest she could surely have spared a page or two in her book to do so as a matter of good practice.

  5. No, I don’t. Because as far as I know, there hasn’t been a study comparing safe/planned crib sleeping to safe/planned bedsharing. If you come across one, please do let me know!

    What I have seen is that most current studies compare rates of deaths of babies sleeping in cribs to rates of deaths of babies sleeping with their parents – even if the latter is unintentional/unplanned, such as me falling asleep while nursing. A further confound is how saturated parents-to-be are with information about safe cribs, but I had to really look to find information about safe bedsharing.

    I get the criticism that Bialik should have spent some time talking about how to be safe. And I do agree, especially since it’s not exactly hard. Heck, I outline pretty much all the safety precautions you need in just one paragraph above! But from the article, it seems that Bialik did have a fly-out box cautioning parents to be safe and provided a list of resources to do so. Having done that, why do we need an entire article poo-pooing her for not going into explicit detail? I mean, am I obligated to go into Rules of the Road every time I tell someone to “drive safely!” after a party?

    So I’d say that the Slate article is not only making a mountain out of a mole hill, but it’s also going about it in a fear mongering way. Read it again, and you’ll see how she spends half the article making my point for me about how confounded present studies are, and then immediately switches gears and goes on about how bedsharing absolutely isn’t safe. Then she gives a little hand-wave to all the people like me who found crib sleeping to be the more unsafe of the choices. At the end, it just left me wondering what her point was… It’s an utterly useless article that a) fails to make a good case that Bialik did something wrong, and b) that bedsharing is actually something to get worked up about.

    • Carl says:

      Or you could buy a “The First Years Close and Secure Sleeper” for $37 USD and move on.

      That’s what we did, worked great.

      Smoking with infants is pretty clear to be a poor choice. It’s poort for adults and poor for kids. Revolutionary!


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  • Melany Hamill

    Melany proudly uses the titles of both geek and nerd. As a science-enthusiast and fan of debate, Melany likes to get her facts straight. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Since then her career path has meandered to its current spot as a project manager at a video game studio. Melany lives near beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. She is not seeking treatment for her caffeine addiction.