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Reflections on the grossly intolerant

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Re British science czar John “grossly intolerant” Beddington facing off against scholar and political correctness zapper Frank Furedi  – both angling off original science thinker Freeman Dyson: Set me thinking. When I was young (yes, forty years ago), two issues my paper explored were breastfeeding and palliative care.

Fashionable? Haw.

Breastfeeding: Any pundit, unpaid opinionator, or scientist who worked for some profitable concern could tell you, decades ago, why formula was the best modern style. Women everywhere charted their progress in modern culture by the disappearance of breastfeeding in their communities. In some poorer communities, women couldn’t feed their weaned children properly, on account of the money they were spending on baby formula. Some of us (hacks who were young mothers) knew something was wrong when we had to tell the hospital that we intended to breastfeed, and then make sure the milk flow wasn’t thwarted. We knew that all the science evidence pointed to the superiority of the millennial method for infant feeding, but that didn’t mean it had penetrated the official establishment. Eventually, the traditional method was vindicated. But I am glad that the worst we encountered along the way was mild discouragement*, not gross intolerance.

Palliative care: Another pseudoscience, to be sure, decades ago. When Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a palliative care pioneer, phoned a hospital in Chicago in the late 1960s, seeking interviews with terminally ill patients, she was informed that no patient there was dying. (So what’s with all the death certificates they give out? Those people are not dead?) Some of us came from backgrounds where natural death was treated as a normal event, and we could not understand the medicalization of dying. Worse, doctors and nurses told us terrible (but, alas, probably true) stories of agony-producing attempts to “save” aged people riddled with cancer, in hospitals that would not permit a beloved dog or cat to visit them and restricted their diet and visitors as if they were going to “get well soon”, in the vapid parlance of greeting cards.

Slowly, but surely, changes were made, and I am glad that it all happened without the predicted frenzy of “gross intolerance.”

I think we can have either progress in science or gross intolerance, and  some people are more comfortable with the latter. Saves work.

* = People would say “You won’t stick to it, you know, and then what will happen to the baby?” In my experience, a healthy baby can raise noise equivalent to a three alarm fire when left unfed. In any normal environment, the baby going unfed is not a problem. Getting some sleep if anything at all is bothering him is … a problem.


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