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How Science Became a Weapon in the Mommy Wars

Peer-reviewed research intensifies parenting debates… and can leave us even more confused.
How Science Became a Weapon in the Mommy Wars

In the shifting battle lines of the mommy wars, scientific studies have become an increasingly common weapon. Research gets employed by both sides and on nearly every issue. Whether breast-feeders versus formula-feeders, anti-vaxxers verses vaccine advocates, or a range of other issues, parents rely on a wave of child development scholarship to defend their positions—and often add fuel to the fire.

We have the Internet to thank, mostly. Young moms have all done it. We Googled our parenting questions or relied on information posted by our friends on Facebook. According to a Pew Research report, 66 percent of mothers and 48 percent of fathers say they have found useful parenting information on social media. About a third said they asked a parenting question of their social network sometime in the last month.

Reflecting on her first six years of parenting, Jennifer Richler writes on The New York Times blog Motherlode: “Google was my parenting manual and my What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

With all that searching, scientific studies and claims ranging from shoddy to sound inevitably appear in the results. A simple query generates everything from data gathered at the Center for Disease Control to industry-funded organizations to grassroots websites and mommy blogs, all citing peer-reviewed studies and quoting doctors. For each study claiming to be evidence supporting one thing, there’s another study on the other side.

Discerning pseudo-science from ...

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