Not a Moldy Oldy

April 29, 2011

Announcing a new podcast, and it involves mold and other environmental hazards: The Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment (podcast download link) (entire podcast archive). It seems everyone is busy with jobs and kids, including Elyse saving the world and Jason Bilotta’s inspection business that deals with mold and other damage. Which is a perfect tie in to the interview with Jerome Paulson, MD of the The Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment.

It is a very informative hour. Give it a listen! Read the rest of this entry »

This Week in Parenting Science 4/1/11

April 1, 2011

Alternative Treatments for Colic Don’t Work – Your baby is crying constantly, the pediatrician doesn’t have any answers, and you’re at the end of your rope. So, you reach for the phone and make an appointment for the chiropractor, get in your car and zoom off to find some “gripe water”, and seriously consider switching to soy formula. HOLD IT! A recent meta-analysis in the journal Pediatrics compiles multiple studies that all seem to show that colic can’t be cured by any popular folk remedy or alternative treatment. The best cure for colic is infinite patience.

Food Dyes and ADHD – Probably Not – I wrote an article on here several years back about ADHD. Someone from an organization representing the Feingold Diet tore me to shreds with a list of research that seemed to indicate a food dye origin to hyperactivity. It turns out that I’m not the only one who was skeptical of the supposed evidence, the FDA reviewed the research and most in the panel found the studies on the link between food dyes and ADHD to be lacking.  There doesn’t seem to be a clear definitive link between food dyes and ADHD, but the panel did say that they haven’t completely closed the book on the possibility of a link.

Paracetamol and Asthma Linked? – Take some caution in the news that a recent meta-analysis of several studies seems to show that paracetamol taken during pregnancy may be linked to the child having symptoms of wheezing as a baby. Further research needs to be done before we make any definitive correlation.

Brain Awareness Week!

March 2, 2011

Coming up later this month is Brain Awareness Week. Started in 1996 by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives to educate kids and their families about the brain and brain science.

If you are near Washington, DC check out the exhibits and activities at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. If you can’t (like most of us) see what activities there are for kids at the Neuroscience for Kids website.

Also, download this week’s Parenting Within Reason podcast where Colin interviews Dr. Joanne Deak about her book Your Fantastic Elastic Brain.

PWR Podcast Ep. 33: Ben Radford

October 29, 2010

On the latest episode of Parenting Within Reason, we interviewed paranormal investigator and Skeptical Inquirer editor Ben Radford. If you’re a fan of mystery shows you may have seen him featured once or twice. Here are a few clips…

Ben spoke to us about the myth of razor blades in apples, and the statistical unlikelihood of sex offenders molesting little children on Halloween night.

For some reason, we’ve decided that Halloween is particularly dangerous when it’s actually relatively safe. The crossing guard at my daughter’s school encouraged me to come to the school-sponsored “Trunk or Treat”, which she described as a “safe” Halloween experience. I do think it’s well-intentioned and nice for our school to offer this service, but please don’t do it in the name of “safety”. Aren’t there more accurate reasons, like building community or having fun?

Also during the podcast, we were joined by our guest co-host, Blake Smith, co-host of Monster Talk, to discuss his paranormal experiences and monster expertise.  Blake mentioned a time when he was deployed overseas and experienced what he believed, at the time, to be a haunting. The most chilling event that occurred during this haunting was waking up to the sensation of someone sitting upon his chest only to turn on the light and discover that nobody was there. Many years later, Blake realized that he was actually experiencing hypnagogic “sleep paralysis”, which is a natural phenomenon that combines the hallucination of lucid dreaming with the paralysis of REM sleep. It feels very real and very intense. Here’s a little video about it…

I’ve actually experienced hypnagogic sleep paralysis on a few occasions. I usually wake up with a feeling of absolute helplessness because I can’t move my body, and then I imagine an intruder entering my room to murder me and my wife. On the few occasions that this has happened, I’ve been woken up by my wife who is annoyed that I’m mumbling like a jackass. Little did she know that a murderer was about to kill her and that I was powerless to stop it, or at least that’s what I believed during the hypnagogic episode. It’s very unpleasant.

I’ve also had an instance in college where I woke up with the sensation of floating above my own body. At the time, I attributed the experience as a metaphysical out-of-body-experience. The truth is that my semisomnambulant mind was acting according to natural neurological stimuli. Nothing supernatural at all, but try telling that to the hippie college version of me.

In the spirit of being honest about our “true believer” pasts, I’m wondering if any of you ever experienced mysterious phenomena that you couldn’t explain at the time. Please, do tell. Very interested to hear your stories.

I knew it again! There’s no reason to feel guilty for working.

October 29, 2010

This is another link via Skepchick.  A review of 50 years of research has determined that kids whose moms work turn out just fine.  The text of the study from the Psychological Bulletin, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Psychological Association can be found here.

I actually waded into this study a bit, since I’m extremely interested in this subject.  Here are the first few lines:

This meta-analysis of 69 studies (1,483 effect sizes) used random effects models to examine maternal employment during infancy/early childhood in relation to 2 major domains of child functioning:  achievement and behavior problems. Analyses of studies that spanned 5 decades indicated that, with a few exceptions, early employment was not significantly associated with later achievement or internalizing/externalizing behaviors.

This study focused on moms who went back to work before their children were three, and it didn’t find any negative associations between working moms and kids.  In fact, kids of working moms had two positive associations.  They “were later rated as higher-achieving by teachers and had fewer problems with depression and anxiety.”

The one caveat for working moms is for those who go back to work before their children turn one.  Those kids had slightly lower academic scores than the kids of non-working moms.  But children whose moms who went back to work when the child was one or two had higher scores, and over three years, the effects evened out.  So the conclusion here is that perhaps better maternity leave in the US  (yes!) would be beneficial for kids.  (Duh.)

I sincerely believed, when I was pregnant, that I would be one of those moms who just would not be able to go back to work when I had a baby.  And I remember feeling a little judgemental of moms who did enjoy working.  Amazing how we know just about EVERYthing about being parents before we actually become parents.

As it turned out, for me, going back to work was awesome.  And I don’t even like my job that much.  But I quickly realized that staying at home full time would drive me nuts and couldn’t possibly be good for me or my kid.  So now I work part time and I get out early enough to take the kid to the park every day.  And we have fantastic, high quality daycare, for which I’m extremely grateful.

I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to juggle working and being a parent.  It’s exhausting, as anyone who does it knows.  But I love working.  And let’s face it, if I didn’t do it, my family would be homeless.  The economy did it’s best to kill us in the last couple years.  I’ve taken a 15% paycut as a teacher.  And my husband stopped working altogether for a long while.  So in our case, mommy working was the only thing that kept off food stamps–barely.

When I went back to work, I thought the first day would be tough.  And I would have shocked my pre-parent self by saying this:  it wasn’t tough at all.  I loved being a working person again and getting to put on my cheap-ass semi-professional clothes.  I loved making copies.  I loved people telling me cheesy jokes in the elevator.  I was so happy to be back in my office.  Work was like a day spa compared to staying at home with a baby.  And lucky me, I don’t have to work all day, so I still got to go home and spend time with the baby.

This topic always brings up a lot of emotions, so sure, let’s just get it out of the way and say that if you stay home all day with your kids and you love it, great!  That is really wonderful for you.  I would become like Jack Nicholson in The Shining if I were home all day.  It just doesn’t work for me.

And there was something in my gut that told me that it was probably going to be just fine, in spite of dire warnings that daycare was negative for kids.  Let’s hope this study will be backed up by future literature on this subject.  I really would love for more moms to be happy about working, if that’s what they want to do.

PWR Podcast: Episode 30 Show Notes

October 7, 2010

In episode 30 of Parenting Within Reason, we spoke with Kate Miller of Charlie’s Playhouse. Be sure to support them and pick up some winter solstice and/or christmas gifts for your kiddos.

Our guest co-host was Mike Meraz, who produces and hosts the Actually Speaking podcast, which provides tools for skeptics to communicate more effectively. His 6 year old son is the host of Aaron’s World… go check that out.

Mike spoke about the latest research on the obesity virus. Part of his reporting led him to speak with the original researcher, Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer, who had a few things to say. Thanks to Mike Meraz for following up…

What you are doing is important. Health and science reporting is a giant and highly variable filter for this study. There are over 200 reports on various websites. I gave fewer than 10 interviews to print or online journalists so many reports are really reports of someone else’s report and it is like the old game of telephone, the farther from the original source, the more things can get distorted. The other thing is that the typical interview is 20 minutes, but usually only 1 or 2 quotes are used so it is very easy to take a quote out of the context in which it was said. This can be done with or without intent to do so. Some reporters got the story right and some did not. If you read the different stories they do not all say the same thing.

My big picture:

1. This work builds off of the work of many others. So when I speak about it, it is important to make clear whether I am talking about our study only, or about the field as a whole.

2. Body weight regulation is complicated, very complicated in fact.  There is not 1 factor that explains the whole story when looking at obesity in society.  There are many credible factors involved.  Which factors are at work for any single child, will differ from child to child.

3. Adenovirus-36 (based upon the entire body of literature) may be 1 factor influencing body fat for some children.  However, if it is a factor, that is just what it is, a factor not the (sole) factor.  Saying that 1 thing matters does not mean that another factor does not matter.  So does nutrition matter? YES.  So does exercise matter? YES. Does sleep matter? YES.  Does stress matter? YES.  Do genes matter? YES.  What we do not know well enough is how these many different complicated factors interact with each other.  To get to the truth, we need to be open minded and test new ideas rigorously.  No one study answers all questions.

4. What to do with this information for now as a parent?
–know that science reporting is a peak into the on-going discussion and discovery before all details have been sorted out
–be aware that weight is complicated
–if you are concerned about your child gaining weight, talk to your doctor sooner, rather than later
–focus on those things that can be controlled or modified (nutrition, activity, sleep)

Uganda Humanist Schools Trust is no longer represented by Foundation Beyond Belief. Go to to see the new slate of beneficiaries that were just announced.

Laurie’s Project Science segment was about milk and food coloring. Go here for instructions and more information.

Brian Dunning on “Dangerous” Vaccine Ingredients

September 14, 2010

The Latest Study Showing No Link Between ASD and Vaccines…and How We Present Information to Friends Without Unfriending

September 14, 2010

First, let’s just get to the links. A recent study, published in Pediatrics, shows no association between thimerosal and autism:

CONCLUSIONS In our study of MCO members, prenatal and early-life exposure to ethylmercury from thimerosal-containing vaccines and immunoglobulin preparations was not related to increased risk of ASDs.

This was apparently a long awaited study. Here are some links with comments about the study by doctors whose blogs I like to read. Their posts might help to understand the study. The first post by Steven Novella explains the background of the study as well. Actually, if you read any of these links, that’s probably the one to focus on. (It’s the shortest and easiest to read.)

And here’s Orac’s take on it.

And here are a whole bunch of other links you can read, if interested. This list is courtesy of Orac. Well, not exactly courtesy. I’ve simply swiped the link to Liz Ditz’s blog from his blog.

While I found Steven Novella’s post very helpful, I was slightly depressed to read his conclusion:

No one study, especially an observational study, is ever very compelling. I don’t think this one new study changes the scientific picture of vaccines or thimerosal and autism. But it is one more study that fails to show any correlation between thimerosal exposure and risk of developing autism or ASD. This comes on top of multiple independent lines of evidence all pointing away from the notion that vaccines or thimerosal are a significant cause of autism.

The scientific community is likely to see this as further confirmation of a lack of association between vaccines and autism – just one more piece of the big picture. The anti-vaccine community is likely to dismiss it as either hopelessly flawed or as part of the conspiracy. In other words – this study is unlikely to change anyone’s mind on this issue.

Sure, maybe not. I haven’t been trying to be a spokesperson for vaccines for very long, so maybe I’m not jaded yet. I’m still sorting out how to talk to people about this issue without offending them or freaking out myself, which is what I’d like to discuss in this post.

Colin gave me some props lately for speaking up on Facebook about vaccines. And well, thanks, but honestly, I’ve screwed up as a skeptical spokesperson a few times, too. It has been really hard to find my voice, and I’ve unfriended two people over this issue. But I think I’ve finally achieved some kind of competence after some trial and error. Here are my basic rules for presenting information without devolving into bad feelings.

1. Give information–links, studies, or what have you–in writing. Email is good. Facebook works. Posting comments is fine. Debating verbally is absolutely pointless for me. I just say, “I can email you some information if you’d like to read it.” I’m not a doctor or a scientist. I’m just a geek who reads a lot about vaccines, so I’d rather let the information do the talking. I am on two mommy support boards, and of course there are tons of woo types on both. Anti-vaccine loons, people advertising amber teething necklaces–oy. It’s tough. Rather than go head to head, I just try to present the facts in writing–other people’s writing.

2. This advice is actually from the moderator of one of those blogs, and I think it’s good, although I balk somewhat at the compromise-like quality of this language. Use “It is my understanding that” or “From what I have read” when presenting information. This kind of toning down of facts does tend to take the emotional charge out of your statements. I think it kind of waters them down, but it pisses people off less, which might make them actually look at what you’re presenting. And in all honestly, it’s just the truth. This is what I have read and understand to be true. To claim any more than that is a little arrogant really. Speaking or writing this way also implies that you’re open to additional information and willing to read and understand more. The moderator was actually posting this information to cut off a thread about homeopathy in which I apparently offended some people by saying that homeopathy doesn’t work. On the sly, many people from the support board emailed me to say thank you for having the “courage” to speak out against the “homeopathic vaccinations” that were being touted by one poster. But these people were too scared to speak up themselves and face the vitriol they might incur. I got more supportive responses than mad responses, but let me tellya’, the mad responses are pretty daunting. People can be super mean, and I don’t enjoy conflict like that. I spoke up because I didn’t want anyone to get a homeopathic vaccination and then have their kid get measles. I felt a responsibility to say something, so I did.

3. This point is my own, and it’s really hard for me, but I’m getting better. Be prepared to walk away from a debate without winning. When you’re posting on blogs or mommy boards, you’re in front of an audience, and I think it’s important to make your point and get the heck out without getting upset. The two boards I post on are for emotional support, so bringing up topics that are polarizing just wrecks everyone’s mood. So I try to make it clear that I’m posting for everyone’s information and that I understand everyone can read and make their own decisions. I do believe that people (like the people who emailed me about my homeopathy posts) are grateful for the information, and I might sway someone who is mostly quiet on the boards. But the regular posters who are all about the woo and the conspiracy theories–meh, it’s best to just respond politely but briefly with links and factual information and leave it at that. Debate isn’t helpful, and people are watching. I try to handle myself politely and respectfully (even if I feel not at all polite or respectful). I suppose it’s a good rule of thumb for many situations anyway, but my point here is that in the end it is probably more persuasive to those who are sitting on the sidelines and reading. At least I hope so.

4. Try to remember when you didn’t have the information either. This one is tough for me, too. I’ve done so much reading at this point that it is almost impossible for me to believe that other people haven’t done the same reading, but they haven’t. A friend with a new baby asked me if I spaced out my shots, and why was there so much autism when there were more vaccinations, and it was all I could do not to scream in frustration. This is a guy from a great school, so why doesn’t he know what’s up? But I took a breath and remembered having a newborn myself and facing all those fear mongering rumors, the terrifying videos of autistic kids on YouTube, the first Google searches that turned up the wackaloon, misguided information–look, that stuff is scary. When I think about it now, it’s actually amazing that I didn’t freak out and do the “alternate schedule.” I live in the epicenter of that kind of thinking. But I have a lot of skeptical friends, so I found the good information and followed the vaccine schedule without fear. (Well, almost. I admit I was somewhat nervous when we went to get the MMR–and I’m embarrassed to admit that now, but that’s where my friends are probably at, too, so it’s good to remember my own twinges of fear.) When I think about how scared I was, it helps me to be reassuring when I say I feel totally comfortable with the vaccine schedule. And it’s better to be helpful and reassuring than to be mind meltingly frustrated that this topic still even comes up. At least, that’s what works better for me.

Any other advice from those of us who are on the front lines of rationalism? I am really hoping that in some small way, I can contribute to my son’s elementary school actually not being at risk for a measles outbreak, which according to an LA Times Article from last year, it is. Vaccination rates have dropped so low that herd immunity is now at risk. Oh California, I love you but you frustrate me.

What do you keep in mind while trying to be a skeptical spokesperson?

Great Day for California

August 4, 2010

Since this is my first post at Science Based Parenting, a little introduction is in order.  I’m Julie, and I started Rational Moms with my friend Jessie in October 2008.  I’m a writer and sometimes actress living in Los Angeles.  Since my town is kind of the center of the woo universe, Jessie and I, upon becoming parents, decided we needed some kind of soap box where we could express ourselves.  So we started a blog and asked a bunch of other moms to join us.  And now, we’re all here, merged into one coed science based conglomerate.

So yes, I live in California, and as many of you have heard by now, Prop 8 has been overturned!  I’m beyond happy about this.

Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling makes for some interesting reading. Excerpts can be found here.  Most notably, for a blog about science based parenting, Walker dismissed the so-called evidence from one David Blankenhorn that gays and lesbians were inferior parents:

… The evidence does not, and does not claim to, compare biological to non-biological parents. Blankenhorn did not in his testimony consider any study comparing children raised by their married biological parents to children raised by their married adoptive parents. …

The studies do not … support a conclusion that the biological connection between a parent and his or her child is a significant variable for child outcomes…

Blankenhorn’s reliance on biology is unsupported by evidence, and the court therefore rejects his conclusion that a biological link between parents and children influences children’s outcomes.”

You gotta love that. Judge considers the evidence, finds it doesn’t support the hypothesis presented, and makes a decision based on the facts. This news gives me just a little faith in humanity.

Podcast TWIPS: Episodes 18, 19, and 20

July 12, 2010

Here are some links for the three latest episodes of Podcast Beyond Belief

On episode 18, we spoke to filmmakers Ashley and Jason Henley, who are producing a documentary about raising kids without religion.

Check out this clip from “Skipping Sunday School“…

Also on our regular segment “This Week in Parenting Science”, we spoke about these subjects…
* Doctors “freeze” a baby (to 92°F) to allow them to complete heart surgery
* 2-year old girls are having their clitoris shortened by a doctor
* Questions about too much exposure to medical radiation
* The name chosen for a child can affect their outlook later in life

Episode 19 featured an interview with Lenore Skenazy, who coined the phrase “Free Range Kids” and wrote a book and blog of the same name.

Here’s a promo video for Free Range Kids, featuring Ms. Skenazy’s brand of common sense parenting…

We also talked about these news items in our regular segment “This Week in Parenting Science”…
* Pertussis returns in California – five babies have died
* Computers in under-priveliged homes may actually be lowering grades
* College course allows students to make their own electric guitars

And finally, Episode 20 featured an interview with Yes Mag editor, Jude Isabella.

She wrote the science-based children’s books… Hoaxed: Fakes and Mistakes in the World of Science, Science Detectives: How Scientists Solved Six Real Life Mysteries, Feats and Failures, and The International Space Station!

We also spoke about these topics on “This Week in Parenting Science”…

* Starting school later improves students’ grades
* Structural difference found in the dyslexic brain