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Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Uninformed Parent

I briefly alluded to this subject in the update to my last post about science communicators, and would like to elaborate more here. A few weeks ago, a important scientific consensus statement was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

According to the authors, the TENDR Consensus Statement is a call to action to reduce exposures to toxic chemicals that can contribute to the prevalence of neurodevelopmental disabilities in America’s children. They cite the increase in developmental disabilities like learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, and other developmental delays that are now affecting 1 in 6 children in the United States. This is an increase of 17% percent over a decade ago.

The scientists then go on to highlight the huge economic burden of these disorders, the unique vulnerability of the developing brain to environmental exposures, and they list some prime examples of neurodevelopmentally toxic chemicals...

Credit: Graphic by Julie McMahon

 ...they also note that the majority of chemicals on the market today have not been tested for neurodevelopmental effects, and underscore the need for a new approach to evaluating chemicals. In their conclusion they stress that the system we have in place is 'fundamentally broken'.

"Based on these findings, we assert that the current system in the United States for evaluating scientific evidence and making health-based decisions about environmental chemicals is fundamentally broken. To help reduce the unacceptably high prevalence of neurodevelopmental disorders in our children, we must eliminate or significantly reduce exposures to chemicals that contribute to these conditions. We must adopt a new framework for assessing chemicals that have the potential to disrupt brain development and prevent the use of those that may pose a risk. This consensus statement lays the foundation for developing recommendations to monitor, assess, and reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals. These measures are urgently needed if we are to protect healthy brain development so that current and future generations can reach their fullest potential."

This is a very strong statement and it conveys a message of urgency to the general public, regulatory agencies and scientific community. It has received coverage on major news outlets like the New York Times and CNN.

So, where are the #ScienceMoms on this one? Where are the Grounded Parents bloggers? Where are the authors of the 'The Informed Parent'? All of these people claim to be evidence based...and it is their job to report on topics related to children and parenting. You would think this would be right up their alley? All parents are interested in protecting their children's health, so it's certainly not a topic that their readers and followers won't relate to. This is as good a reason as any to promote scientific evidence - which is what these ladies say they are so passionate about!

A cover photo from one of the #ScienceMoms' social media pages.

Because this was such an important statement with implications for the health of future generations, I wanted to be sure that the cadre of #ScienceMoms were aware of its existence. So, I tagged all the moms, bloggers and Forbes contributors I could think of off the top of my head, and that could fit in this tweet.

Honestly, my hopes were low that I would receive a response, and indeed my expectations were met for the most part. I certainly don't wish for this, it is far more important that this issue receives the attention it deserves than for my suppositions about mommy bloggers and their biases be proven. Truly, I would have been very happy to have the statement acknowledged and reported on by these ladies, who collectively reach a decent size audience. In fact I was very much wishing to be proven wrong!

Unfortunately this was not the case. If it weren't for a cynical tweet from @FarmFairyCrafts poking the bear a bit, I probably would not have ended up with this one response from @ejwillingham, the co-author of the book 'The Informed Parent' with Tara Haelle.

I did press her further for some kind of a straight answer...

and one last time...

So, despite some of them being given an opportunity to acknowledge this, I can't seem to find any mentions of this consensus statement on their respective social media platforms. What I did find was a peek into what these hashtag Science Moms do promote, which may explain why my tweets were met with crickets and tumbleweeds.

Concern about toxic chemicals is chemophobia?

We have livers, therefore chemical exposure is basically a non issue?

Confusing consensus with concillience, but even then, one would think they'd be more interested in an actual consensus statement?

Ahhh, so it's just better diagnosis, nothing to see here, or here, or here, or here, move along?

Not labeling GE ingredients takes center stage over children's neurodevelopment?

Again, this is what they are fighting against?

I did find this one glimmer of hope! Then I read the comments. Enter Debbie Downer: Wahhh waaaahhhhhhhh.

While on my search for any sign of the TENDR consensus statement, I found a Grounded Parents post advocating against GMO labeling. It was put together as a statement from Science Moms to celebrity moms. Oddly enough, one of the signatories just happens to be the director of a well known toxic chemical defending, climate change denying astroturf group, which I've detailed here. I guess they let it slide since she loves GMOs?

Judging by the sheer number of GMO related posts and this statement, fighting against GMO labels seems to be a main focus of many of these mothers, most specifically the Science Moms. They seem to be inordinately preoccupied with promoting GMO agriculture...and also just happen to be friends with the Director of Millenial Engagement for Monsanto Company, who claim almost 1/4 of the market share on GE seeds.

My friend Vance!
One can't help but wonder if this has anything to do with something that was in the emails revealed in this New York Times article about industry enlisting academics in lobbying against GMO labels?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

And again, something else of note in the trailer for the Science Moms documentary is this quote from Mommy Phd:

"If someone is talking about a synthetic chemical and calling it a toxin, you know they don't know what they are talking about, and then you shouldn't listen to them anymore."

So I'm assuming because someone uses the word toxin, when they technically should be using the word toxicant, then they are automatically unworthy of listening to? Honestly, who cares that much? This is like being all nitpicky over the use of the word chemical when synthetic is implied. I've personally seen the colloquial use of these terms by scientists. After all they need to make things simplified for laypersons. It's certainly okay to use things like that as a teaching opportunity, but if you use it just to put people down or make them look stupid, it's pretty fucking snooty if you ask me. What if someone were to warn her of a poisonous snake under a rock she is about to put her hand on? Would she argue semantics with them? "Well, you don't know what you are talking about and I'm not going to listen to you because snakes are nearly always venom...ouch!"

The TENDR consensus statement mentions both synthetic and naturally occurring chemicals known to harm brain development, and they do use correct terminology, so at least they pass Mommy Phd's litmus test for whether or not they should be listened to. Phew!

All these clues would explain at least in part why I cannot find any mentions of the TENDR consensus statement. When taking these details into context, we start to get a better picture of what the Science Moms are all about. Unless you can access someone's mind, or they volunteer the information, you can't ever really know what their motives are and so I can only speculate on them here. Perhaps one reason they are remaining quiet regarding the statement is that it directly contradicts many of their core positions on chemicals and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), for example. It's also evident that more often than not, these women take the industry position on nearly all matters. Why that is, I cannot say for sure. But it leaves you wondering given the company they keep (Julie Gunlock of IWF, Vance Crowe of Monsanto, etc.)... Whatever the reason, however, their silence on this important matter is deafening.

Bottom line here is that there's no good reason why they should not care about this information and not share it with other parents. If you truly want to be an Informed Parent, I suggest you follow someone other than the so-called Science Moms.

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