Like many geeks, I enjoy The Big Bang Theory. I know, I know, you’re shocked to hear that, but it’s true. I’ve seen nearly every episode since the first season. Over the last couple of seasons, the male-centric show has been considerably improved by its move towards more of an ensemble cast that includes two new female characters: Bernadette Rostenkowski, played by Melissa Rauch, who is Howard’s girlfriend, and Amy Farrah Fowler, played by Mayim Bialik, who is Sheldon’s girlfriend. Both characters are smart and in many ways as geeky as the guys, but in a different way.
Oddly enough, I still remember Bialik from the 1990s, when she played Blossom in the sitcom called, well, Blossom. A few years ago, before Bialik joined the cast of The Big Bang Theory, I was quite impressed to learn that Bialik had pursued a career in neuroscience and had obtained a PhD. Such an achievement is indeed impressive and bespeaks a keen scientific mind. Or so I thought. I’m not sure why she apparently didn’t do much with her PhD and instead returned to acting, playing a neuroscientist instead of actually working as one, but in general I was glad she did, because she has been hilarious thus far in The Big Bang Theory as a neuroscientist foil to Sheldon’s physicist ego.
Unfortunately (in this case at least), actors aren’t their characters, and even more unfortunately Bialik isn’t anything like Amy Farrah Fowler, at least when it comes to science. Whereas Amy Farrah Fowler is scientific to the point of having difficulty functioning in “normal” society, Bialik, I just learned from commenter yesterday, is heavily into the woo. How heavily? Well, it should tell you a lot that she’s a celebrity spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network. What is the Holistic Moms Network? Actually, the name should say it all to you. Picture the sort of organization that would name itself the Holistic Moms Network, turn it up to 11, and then multiply it by another 11, and you have an idea. The Holistic Moms Network is a cesspit of “natural” parenting, where “natural” apparently means embracing every form of “natural” woo known to humans.
Don’t believe me? Just one look at its advisory board should tell you all you need to know. For instance, there’s Dr. Lauren Feder, who bills herself as specializing in “primary care medicine, pediatrics and homeopathy” and has been a frequent contributor to that bastion of quackery and antivaccine looniness, Mothering Magazine, where she recommended homeopathic remedies to treat whooping cough. It doesn’t get much quackier than that. But Feder is just the beginning. Also on the Holistic Moms advisory board is the grand dame of the antivaccine movement herself, the woman who arguably more than anyone else is responsible for starting the most recent iteration of the antivaccine movement in the U.S. Yes, I’m talking about Barbara Loe Fisher, the founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a bastion of antivaccine propaganda since the 1980s. She’s not the only antivaccine activist on the advisory board, though. There’s also Peggy O’Mara, publisher of Mothering Magazine and Sherri Tenpenny, who is described right on the Holistic Moms website as, “one of America’s most knowledgeable and outspoken physicians, warning against the negative impact of vaccines on health.” Then there’s Dr. Lawrence Rosen, “integrative” pediatrician who appeared at the NVIC “vaccine safety conference” back in 2009 with Barbara Loe Fisher and Andrew Wakefield. In fact, Barbara Loe Fisher, Sherri Tenpenny, and Lauren Feder are featured very prominently on the Holistic Moms Network page on vaccination.
But that’s not all. If there’s one more thing that should tell you all you need to know about the Holistic Moms Network approach to science-based medicine, then take a look at its sponsors: Boiron (manufacturer of the homeopathic remedy for flu known as Oscillococcinum), the Center for Homeopathic Education (and I bet it is homeopathic too), the National Center for Homeopathy, and a whole bunch of other purveyors of woo and quackery.
The other thing about the Holistic Moms Network is that it’s also very, very heavily into “natural” childbirth, otherwise known as home birth, and Bialik is totally down with that, even to the point of thinking that women should have to suffer because it’s more “natural”:
Birth is intense; squeezing a baby out of your body is a challenge, no matter what your “pain tolerance.” However, our culture medicates routinely for a variety of “normal” emotional experiences (encouraging medication for people in the early stages of grief comes to mind), and medicating for the emotions of birth is no exception. The vocalizing and emotional experience that is commonly referred to as “complaining,” “screaming,” or “suffering” is a normal part of labor. Birth is not neat and fast and quiet: it’s gritty and primal. But it’s nothing to fear unless you also think we ought to fear women crying when they are sad or laughing when they are happy. There are numerous effective pain-management techniques to use in labor. I used self-hypnosis for both of my natural labors as well as showers and baths, massage, homeopathy, and the greatest power of all: the power of my mind to force out the notion that pain with purpose – labor — is something to fear.
Also “natural,” apparently, is not vaccinating her children:
Reader N.S. remembers reading about your contemplating whether or not to vaccinate the kids. What decision did you reach?
We are a non-vaccinating family, but I make no claims about people’s individual decisions. We based ours on research and discussions with our pediatrician, and we’ve been happy with that decision, but obviously there’s a lot of controversy about it.
No, actually, there isn’t. At least, there isn’t a scientific controversy about vaccines. Unfortunately, even with her PhD in neuroscience, Mayim Bialik is apparently incapable of of figuring that out. It just goes to show that understanding in one area of science doesn’t necessarily translate into an understanding in another. Certainly the research skills she learned to obtain her PhD in neuroscience did not translate to doing research about vaccines. One can’t help but note that Bialik is more accurate than she probably knows when she answers a reader question about what she’s doing with her PhD these day by saying, “…for the most part I use my scientific background to be called Dr. Mom in this house.” Obviously.
She’s also a big fan of antivaccine apologist Dr. Jay Gordon and antivaccine pediatrician Dr. Bob Sears. She completely gushes about them on her Facebook page because Dr. Jay apparently wrote the foreword to her book on attachment parenting entitled Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way and Dr. Sears wrote a blurb for her.
Bialik is, not surprisingly, also an extremely crunchy vegan. (I know, not all vegans are woos, but there is a high correlation.) That, however, doesn’t really bug me much, except that her extreme crunchiness and “natural parenting” apparently extend to not providing her children with services from which they could benefit. For instance, about a year ago she wrote a post entitled Why I don’t force my kids to say ‘please’… or walk on schedule in which she almost bragged about her approach to parenting:
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. By current conventional standards both of my sons qualified for speech, occupational and physical therapy and I gave them none. Both walked at a ripe 17 months, my older son did not speak sentences until well after 3, my younger son, age 2, communicates exceedingly well with signs and gestures but has not uttered a two-word phrase or even an “appropriately” formed word. My boys were physically very cautious, shunning jumping, running, and even climbing long after their peers mastered them; and my younger son did not roll over unassisted until, wait for it: the day he turned one. He apparently has a weak set of core muscles that he now compensates for beautifully, without anyone noticing but me and my husband.
So why didn’t I send my children for assessment and therapy? For the same reason that I don’t tell them to say “please” or “thank you.” Confused yet? Don’t be. Barring outstanding medical concerns, I believe in letting children progress in their own way and pace, modeling behavior while respecting the innate development of a child as an autonomous and purposeful creature. I believe that children, like adults (and perhaps better than most adults?), generally know what works for them.
Notice how the naturalistic fallacy that apparently drives Bialik to eschew vaccines for her children and pain relief other than homeopathy and mind games during childbirth for herself is also leading her to impose on her own children her idea that children somehow magically know how to be raised properly and at their own pace when, by her own admission, they could clearly use help and would probably benefit from speech, occupational, and physical therapy. By Bialik’s own admission, her children are developmentally delayed, but she is not willing to give them the extra help they appear to need. (At least she can’t blame vaccines for her children’s developmental delay.) Instead, she views offering that help to them as “forcing” them to develop at some sort of “unnatural” pace for them:
Although the “delays” my sons displayed can be markers for autism, autism-spectrum disorders or developmental delays, I trust my intuition and I trust our pediatrician. My husband and I knew there was nothing wrong with our older son, and I know there is nothing wrong with his little doppelganger. By the standards of whoever decided kids should do what when, my sons are truly “behind,” and I have been accused of being neglectful and selfish for not getting them therapy.
We have no daycare, pre-school or kindergarten standards to meet (we homeschool), no one to impress (we choose friends who support independent thinking or share it themselves) and we have nothing to be ashamed of (our parents have learned to back off and watch the results; thankfully, our boys have not disappointed them yet). My kids are fine. You may not think so, but you get to raise your kids and I get to raise mine.
Because, apparently, her “mommy instinct” tells her her kids are fine even though there are many indications that they are not. She might be right. After all, many children who are developmentally delayed ultimately “catch up.” However, it’s quite probable that she’s wrong and that her children are having problems that they don’t necessarily have to have because she “believes” they are just fine. To her, their developmental delay is nothing more than the dogmatic judgment of pediatricians who apparently just made up these standards out of whole cloth and/or are the results of arbitrary judgments of pre-school, kindergarten, and school officials. Consistent with her desire not to “force” her children to develop “faster” than is “natural,” she also has a whole list of things she doesn’t want to “force” her children to do, including sharing, being polite, or excelling at anything, all of which she disparages as “just creating children who are monkeys, imitating behavior without independently experiencing it or really understanding it.” Or she could be raising two massively spoiled kids. She claims she “sets boundaries” but then denies using many of the most common strategies to enforce those boundaries.
I realize that attachment parenting of the type advocated by Dr. Sears and our very own Dr. Jay Gordon is all the rage these days, but I have a tendency to take the criticisms seriously, particularly the lack of empiric evidence that supports the concept as being superior to other forms of parenting. Attachment parenting might work for some parents, but it’s incredibly demanding and strikes me as going too far, as obsessive even.
While a case for attachment parenting might be made, there is no doubt that Bialik subscribes to a lot of non-science-based ideas in that she is clearly antivaccine, lives a crunchy faux “natural” lifestyle, and believes in homeopathy. How a PhD scientist can believe in homeopathy remains, of course, beyond me. One wonders if they didn’t teach her Avagadro’s number in undergraduate college or even in graduate school. Be that as it may, unfortunately Mayim Bialik is proof positive that even advanced education in science doesn’t always inoculate one from quackery. Even leaving aside the question of whether there is anything to attachment parenting, there’s more than enough evidence that Bialik’s prone to magical thinking, to put it kindly.
Sadly, I won’t be able to watch Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory in the same way again. Part of the appeal of her character was that, given her PhD in neuroscience, there was the impression that Mayim Bialik was actually a bit like the character she plays. I know that Amy Farrah Fowler is a character that Mayim Bialik happens to be very good at bringing to life in an entertaining fashion and nothing more, but even so it’s going to be hard to forget the woo that lies behind the neuroscientist, both fictional and real.