White Coat Underground

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but I’ll explain. First, some colleagues and I have been talking about two related issues: how to continue to build readership, and what attracts or repels certain groups of readers. I love my readers and commenters, but are there things I could be doing to attract more readers? And what would I be willing to do?

For example, if I started promoting quackery, I could not only build my readership, but make ass-loads of money. This I will not do. I might also attract people to my blog who currently are turned off to it. But if promoting quackery is what it takes to bring in readers, I’m willing to stick with my current traffic.

But what might I be doing that is turning away potential allies? For example, I have walked into a roomful of doctors before, and found the conversation so alienating that I have simply walked away. In this case, alienating can be the assumption in the conversation of church-membership, or the use of terms such as “jew’d him down”. These things are like a door in the face. One of my goals is to make sure I’m not slamming my door in too many faces.

These slamming doors can be very subtle, and the “slammer” is often oblivious. I do not write racist posts, but does my failure to address race and medicine more often turn away readers? I don’t explicitly address gender issues all that often—is my content and language chasing people away? One of the reasons I avoid posting on religion or politics too often is not because I don’t have opinions, but because I don’t want to lose potential allies of other religious or political bents. Does my failure to address political and religious issues actually turn more people away than it attracts?

These are rhetorical questions. I write what I write because I know it, but I do try to reach outside my most intimate knowledge to address a wider audience. It’s hard work to reach outside your comfort zone and create a blog environment that is more widely welcoming. I don’t know if I will succeed, but all I ask is that you give me a chance.

Comments

  1. #1 Donna B.
    May 21, 2009

    Write about what interests you, otherwise you run the risk of being boring. And that will certainly drive away readers.

  2. #2 outwest
    May 21, 2009

    I don’t care to read about poltics or religion on a medical blog – unless the subject relates (as in the Daniel Hauser case). But even if you did post more on those subjects, I would still read you daily. So, as the previous commenter, write what interests you. I for one will still be here!

  3. #3 Brownian
    May 21, 2009

    One of the reasons I avoid posting on religion or politics too often is not because I don’t have opinions, but because I don’t want to lose potential allies of other religious or political bents.

    It sure seems to work for some.

    But I agree with Donna B. Post about whatever interests you most, and let your readership decide.

  4. #4 Toaster
    May 21, 2009

    The Internet is a teeming mass of the humanity, those who are interested in what you have to say will find you for what you have to say, not for outreach.

  5. #5 Mary
    May 21, 2009

    Are you looking for readership, or do you view this as a creative outlet (for you) that informs (others)?

    If you need this blog for money, pimp it. If you want to write about what moves you, I’ll follow. Why is this so hard?

    BTW: I’m a newbie poster, but long time reader.

  6. #6 Whitecoat Tales
    May 21, 2009

    Personally, I enjoy this blog so much because you talk primarily about things which you know pretty intimately, and which you care so much about.

    I think I’d be more turned off if you started talking more about politics, religion, or race in ways that weren’t as authentically your passion.

  7. #7 Denice Walter
    May 21, 2009

    I had a similar problem because I partake in (what is laughingly called) a *recreational* activity which involves a startling array of different political views,countries of origin, and religious backgrounds.*And* people really like to talk and argue.For a long time, I just avoided the fray,having some ability to discreetly dance around the issues.Gradually, I let people know where I stand. I never insult anyone with different views or let any discussion escalate too much.Interestingly enough,a few people I thought were really different politically, *weren’t*,and I became very good friends with people who *are*(and who are *actually* religious). Now, I *do* draw my “line in the sand”-the limit of my tolerance- at pseudo-science and woo.

  8. #8 D. C. Sessions
    May 21, 2009

    If I wanted to read something else, I know where to find it.

    Steady as she goes, Doctor (although that daughter of yours is mighty cute.)

  9. #9 Dianne
    May 21, 2009

    What Donna said.

    I’ll just add that I would like to read your thoughts on race, religion, and medicine, if and ONLY if you’re interested in sharing them with your readers.

  10. #10 chezjake
    May 22, 2009

    You’re doing just fine, PAL, and one of the things that keeps bringing me back is your obvious concern for your fellow humans. Keep on keepin’ on.

  11. #11 Bob O'H
    May 22, 2009

    Isn’t this blog about you? I guess most of your readers come here because they like reading what you write – we get to know a person who’s company we enjoy and respect: your next post is a good example of this. If you self-consciously go after a different audience, you might end up diluting what you have.

    If you want to pimp your blog, ask Grrlscientist for advice. You’ll need to buy a camera, though.

  12. #12 Larry Ayers
    May 22, 2009

    Keep doing what you’re doing, just writing about your life. Leave the religion and politics to people like P.Z. Myers; you have more than enough material to work with. I’m just a guy living in Hannibal, MO who has enjoyed reading your posts for quite some time.

  13. #13 Suzanne
    May 22, 2009

    You’re doing just fine. I found your blog by way of another science blogger. My intention was to learn something about medicine and health issues from the other side of the desk.

    The first thing I did before I started blogging was to write a mission statement. It can be a guideline as to what you’re trying to accomplish. In your profile you’ve stated that you have an interest in exposing charlatans. As a patient that hold interest for me but beyond that I think you’ll find that your readership will guide you as to how your blog will change over time. Since the subject matter is mostly medical, I’d find discussions of religion or politics to be off-topic and distracting. I am interested in how politics might impact medicine and also in medical ethics.

    I find that you’ve created a safe place for people to express opposing opinions. Occasionally I will feel that I’ve waded into a scientific conversation that is way over my head but I stick around because I’m interested in bridging the gap between doctor and patient.

    Attracting more readers to the site would require some additional networking and activities that would further eat into your time. At some point you have to ask yourself, “Would I write even if no one were reading?”

    There is one curious thing I’ve noticed. Sometimes you post a topic that is controversial and then you disappear. I’ve envisioned you hiding behind some file cabinet, giggling as all hell breaks loose in the comments. In those cases a reader expects you to come back and voice your opinions.

    Keep up the good work. Write and they will come.

    Oh, and Jenny is speaking this weekend in Chicago. Sigh.

    http://www.autismone.org/?goto=chicago

  14. #14 wazza
    May 22, 2009

    I…

    it constantly amazes me that anti-semitism is such a big thing. I’ve never encountered it anywhere in NZ. I mean, a neonazi slogan got sprayed onto a synagogue once. That’s about it; it was such a rare event, in fact, that it merited a five-minute spot on the evening news nationwide. Now that I think about it, there seem to be a lot of racial stereotypes out there that we don’t encounter; we only have a few about scots and irish people, generally taken in good fun since so many of us are of scottish (as I am) or irish ancestry. There are also a lot of jokes about Maori, half of which are probably more current as in-jokes amongst Maori themselves than amongst Pakeha (a term which is apparently a racial slur, but also the most common term for a white New Zealander to use for themselves).

    Anyway, you’re doing fine, really. I can’t think of anything you need more of to make the blog work.

  15. #15 wazza
    May 22, 2009

    I…

    it constantly amazes me that anti-semitism is such a big thing. I’ve never encountered it anywhere in NZ. I mean, a neonazi slogan got sprayed onto a synagogue once. That’s about it; it was such a rare event, in fact, that it merited a five-minute spot on the evening news nationwide. Now that I think about it, there seem to be a lot of racial stereotypes out there that we don’t encounter; we only have a few about scots and irish people, generally taken in good fun since so many of us are of scottish (as I am) or irish ancestry. There are also a lot of jokes about Maori, half of which are probably more current as in-jokes amongst Maori themselves than amongst Pakeha (a term which is apparently a racial slur, but also the most common term for a white New Zealander to use for themselves).

    Anyway, you’re doing fine, really. I can’t think of anything you need more of to make the blog work.

    Oh, and Suzanne: Pal’s been blogging for ages, over at DenialismBlog (he’s still listed as an author there too)

  16. #16 rob
    May 22, 2009

    what? you need more beer and pizza money? :)

    just keep doing what you are doing. i stumbled across your blog looking for a physicicans view of all the crappy medical woo out there, cause i don’t know biological science. (i am in the physical sciences)

  17. #17 Michael Simpson
    May 22, 2009

    PalMD

    Discuss whatever you want in whatever way you want. Smart people talking about smart things is always good. If Obama proposes a new healthcare policy, I want to read your opinion, whether you like or despise it. If a holocaust denier angers you, then by all means, write about it. Where is it written that those who are intelligent can only write about their expertise? OK, yes, the woo-meister crowd is a good reason to have that rule.

    Maybe if smart people could analyze challenges, problems and ideas outside of their own field of knowledge, we could change the world. I don’t know if you’re ever going to stop Jenny from hurting people, but maybe one person is convinced, and you save one kid somewhere. And if you think waterboarding is evil, then tell us why. You’ve earned the audience’s respect, and if it brings in a couple of additional readers who are wondering if Jenny is right, well then it’s all good.

    Write away.

  18. #18 daedalus2u
    May 22, 2009

    The only way anyone can ever learn anything new is by trying to think about things they do not understand. If you already understand it, you are not learning anything.

    There is no shortage of people who don’t want to learn anything new.

  19. #19 Danimal
    May 22, 2009

    I love almost all your posts, except when talking about the effects of second hand smoke, there I call bullshit. That is where I first discovered you (denialism) and I followed you here. What I like about your blog is that you put a human face on being a doctor (I feel like we could go out and have a beer). I wish you were my doctor, but again, you probably would not like me as your patient. I can be obnoxious with doctors. Who I am kidding, I can be obnoxious in general. I was hoping that you would post a follow up to when you help in a hurricane aftermath. Loved that series, but was curious whether you ever returned.

  20. #20 PalMD
    May 22, 2009

    Ach! I forgot to do that!

  21. #21 The Blind Watchmaker
    May 22, 2009

    How much is an “ass-load”?

  22. #22 BGT
    May 23, 2009

    Pal, just continue to write your posts.

    I read PZ, Ed, ERV, and Orac daily.

    You all don’t have too much in common, except a passion for science and clear thinking. That is what keeps me coming here.

    Just keep doing what you are doing, and don’t worry about stats.

  23. #23 Seaweed
    May 24, 2009

    HMM… Well, Pal I like what you’re doing right now, fine the way you are. I think I might be a little turned off if you discussed religion in a certain way.

    What I mean by that is I have no problem with science bloggers attacking Creationism and people who push religious ideas as scientific ones and can cause death as a result of rejecting medicine for craziness. The second religious ideas with no science backing them gets touted as ‘cures’ or treatments I lose my brain and in order to deal with the anger from such medical lies I must resort copious amounts of alcohol.

    But I do have a problem with bloggers who lump any one who is even remotely religious with the woo-pushers and crazies and say that anyone who is religious must also be stupid or crazy or into woo. I hate that. I hate when science bloggers do that. But you really don’t, Pal, and I like that.

    Obviously, you may have figured out that I am a bit religious and as such I can barely find any science or skeptical blogs in which I can read and enjoy myself without being called by some atheists any one of the following for just be religious: a child-abuser, an idiot, illogical, irrational, stupid, crazy, anti-science, Creationist, anti-evolution, racist, supporter of murder and torture and genocide, intolerant (I found that accusation to be ironic), holding back the progress of humanity, evil, immoral, plotting the destruction of the world, etc, etc, …. Anyone even remotely religious gets called all these things fairly often by some atheists and that gets annoying after awhile especially since in my case not a one of those accusations is fair or true.

    I love your blog because I actually feel welcomed and respected here instead of feeling insulted.

  24. #24 Juniper Shoemaker
    May 24, 2009

    I think you do a fabulous job blogging as yourself. Passion is key.

    You (and Orac) write especially valuable blogs. When I was in high school and college, I believed in a lot of pseudomedical, pseudoscientific woo– a lot more than I thought I might, too. I had several ugly experiences. It wasn’t because I didn’t know that I should earnestly investigate claims, either. People like me, with my kind of history, treasure science blogs that personably encourage us to beware as much as books and articles.

  25. #25 daedalus2u
    May 25, 2009

    Seaweed, a problem that some non-theists have with those who are religious is that most religious people give other religious people a “pass” on beliefs that were arrived at via religious-type thinking.

    The religious community (for the most part) doesn’t criticize itself. The religious-type thinking “process” that Fred Phelps used to come up with his religious philosophy is the same as the “process” that every other religion has used. That would be prayer and divine revelation.

    The process of prayer and divine revelation is not a reliable process for getting to something useful (as perceived by non-theists). To us, it seems mostly a way of justifying what ever it is you want to do via a process that cannot be questioned, reasoned with, or even understood. It has been documented many times that a religious-type thinking process does lead to people who are:

    “a child-abuser, an idiot, illogical, irrational, stupid, crazy, anti-science, Creationist, anti-evolution, racist, supporter of murder and torture and genocide, intolerant (I found that accusation to be ironic), holding back the progress of humanity, evil, immoral, plotting the destruction of the world, etc, etc,”

    To the extent that people of religion support the use of a process, they support the outcomes of that process. When that process leads to actions such as those of Fred Phelps; people who support the process say “no one could have predicted”. People who know the process is flawed can only shake their heads and say “I told you so”.

    When the blind lead the blind, they will end up in the ditch. When you use a process (religious-type thinking) that is known to not work for most people (if it did work for most people, those people would have a common view of religion and they don’t) why does anyone expect it to work for them?

    If you want to fix the outcome (not have people who are irrational, crazy, abusive, as above), you have to fix the process by which that outcome is arrived at. If the religious community could fix their religious-type thinking process so it didn’t result in bad outcomes, then non-theists wouldn’t have anything to complain about and we could all just go about living our lives.

  26. #26 Michael
    May 25, 2009

    Just from a personal experience I’ve been a long-time reader and I made a comment about 6 months ago that probably ticked you off so you responded quite harshly. It was probably because of the way I worded it — it might have been just interpreted as a denialist comment even though it wasn’t. I guess in a topic area like yours where there are a lot of denialists it might be more difficult to assume good faith than in other areas but this might prevent misunderstandings with potential allies (esp. since internet communication is very flawed when dealing with emotionally charged topics like the ones you blog about). Of course at some point a spade must be called a spade.

    Other than that keep up the good work — I love your blog for the distinctive voice and POV it already has.

  27. #27 Seaweed
    May 26, 2009

    daedalus2u,
    I don’t give others a pass simply because they arrived at their conclusions through religious ideas. I don’t and I personally do not know anyone in my life who does. I believe that religion has had a positive influence on many people in general in spite of the negative impact. There is no point in arguing with me about it. I simply disagree with those who say religion is always or mostly bad and should be gotten rid because the world would be better off. I just plain disagree. And I know that there are indeed some atheists and agnostics who would agree with me. Clearly you don’t and that’s fine. I really don’t blame you at all.

    There is one thing you said that I really take issue with. You seem to imply that I am in some small way responsible for or ok with things like genocide merely because the criminal and I share religious beliefs in common. Maybe you didn’t really mean that but it is how I took it.

    “To the extent that people of religion support the use of a process, they support the outcomes of that process”

    Two people can have the same kind of thought processes yet come to opposite conclusions, can’t they? I mean not all atheists agree that religion is always or mostly bad; they just don’t agree. Yet, aren’t their thought processes about religion more or less the same? It certainly seems so. Yet their conclusions are quite the opposite.

    But don’t you see? This is exactly what I am afraid of. All this discussion is exactly what I don’t want here. This is exactly why I think if this blog (or Orac’s) got into religion outside of a medical context then I would be, perhaps, a little turned off by it. All I did was lament that some atheists have said some alienating things in specific against the mere idea of theism and look at the response I got to it. And I don’t just mean some atheists were critical of theism. I mean I was literally called a supporter of hate and genocide for merely being a little religious. Well, seeing the ensuing result of my valid but ill-placed lament I regret ever making it because I caused this pointless mini-debate to take place in these comments. I started the very thing I hoped to avoid: a debate on religion.

    I do not want to read a medical blog that discusses religion in way that has very little to do with medicine and feel like I have to defend my theistic ideas at every turn. Don’t alienate those who would be your ally against those who would push medical quackery.

  28. #28 daedalus2u
    May 26, 2009

    Seaweed, you make the error in equating the thinking processes of theists with the thinking processes of atheists and making the logical error of post hoc ergo prompter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). That is not a surprise because such thinking is drilled into many people through their religious training. A major aspect of most religious training is inculcating the notion that good behavior follows from following religious precepts. What actually follows is obedient behavior.

    In other words you accept the argument that if a person is religious and is a good person, then religion must have been the cause, and if a person is an atheist and is a bad person, then the absence of religion must have been the cause. But what about the bad person who is religious or the good person who is non-religious? The existence of such people is proof that religion is neither necessary nor sufficient to be a good person.

    Theism is the belief in God or gods, and attributes to them certain properties which can be manipulated by the religious adherent, through prayer, through sacrifice, through doing good works, through following various rituals, etc. Atheism is the absence of a belief in God or gods.

    The absence of a belief is not the basis for a reasoning process. Attributing the behavior of individuals to their lack of belief is a non sequitur. I presume you do not believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Is it then legitimate to presume that your reasoning and behaviors can be attributed to that non-belief? Is it legitimate to divide people into two classes, the Pastafarians and the a-Pastafarians and attribute all behaviors of the a-Pastafarians to their non belief in the FSM? As someone without a belief in God or gods (or the FSM), I see the attribution of my behaviors to my non belief as nonsense (attribution by people without sense).

    Because there are infinitely many possible beliefs, every individual must have the absence of infinitely many beliefs (because humans are finite). It makes no sense to try and understand individuals on the basis of the infinity of things they do not believe.

    The blog post before this one was about the case of a boy with a treatable cancer who was denied treatment by his parents because of their religious beliefs. Unfortunately there is not a shortage of people who do support such decisions simply because they are arrived at via religious thinking. There are instances of religious exemptions for vaccination requirements. Those responsible for such policies have given people a “pass” based on their religious beliefs.

    I don’t agree that two people can have the same type of thought processes and reach opposite conclusions. The same premises, the same data, acted upon by the same reasoning process will produce (about) the same conclusions. If it produces the opposite conclusion, then (obviously to me), the premises and thought processes are not the same.

    Two processes can reach the same conclusions, but that most certainly does not mean that the two processes are the same or that they started with the same data.

    2+2 = 4 and also 3*4+(3+5)*e^(pi*(-1)^(1/2)) = 4.

    If we use the analogy of the numbers being the data and premises, and the operators as the process of manipulating the data, then plugging the same data into the two different processes will produce very different results.

    We don’t have access to the reasoning processes of other individuals, other than what they self report. When that reasoning process is reported in sufficient detail that we can analyze it, then we can test that reasoning in sufficient detail to check if it is valid, that it starts out with valid premises, true facts, and uses valid logic to come to conclusions.

    When that reasoning process uses procedures that cannot be analyzed, (I feel xyz), or premises that cannot be articulated (just because), or statements which cannot be verified (God told me), there is not a way to analyze the reasoning process to determine if it is valid. That persons of religion X, Y, Z all come to decisions A, B, C provides no assurance that they will come to the same decisions based on the same data in the future. Religious type thinking is predicated on the validity of prayer and divine revelation.

    Just to be clear, I have no objection to people using religious-type thinking for themselves and to make decisions that only affect themselves. I do have a problem with the use of religion in politics, and in trying to exert control over others.

    Proposition 8 in California is a good example. It was primarily religious groups that opposed allowing gay people to marry and for purely religious reasons. I see Proposition 8 as a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; a denial of the fundamental human right to enter into marriage and found a family.

    http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

    I think I do understand where you are coming from. I don’t think you understand where I am coming from. Most religious people in California not only gave the bigots who voted for Prop 8 a “pass”, they voted for it themselves! Atheists can be bigots too; the religious don’t have a monopoly on bigotry. What the religious do have a monopoly on is religion, and the religious reasoning process of prayer and divine revelation which can be used to justify any behavior.

    The founder of the Abrahamic religions was prepared to sacrifice his son due to his religious beliefs. Abraham isn’t just given a “pass”, he is held up as the quintessential example of how a faithful follower of God should act. When Andrea Yates acted essentially the same way, she was vilified instead of being recognized as being psychotic, delusional and insane. At her trial, her religious leader faulted her for not being religious enough. It was Einstein who said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

    To my understanding religion doesn’t have much to do with whether someone is a good person or a bad person. Most good religious people (I think) appreciate that it doesn’t have much to do with it either. In my opinion, most bad religious people think that simply by having a religion of a certain type they have become by definition “good” and empowered to be arbiters of what is good and bad in the world. To the extent that good religious people allow the bad religious people to define good and bad in terms of religious beliefs, rather than in terms of behaviors, they give those religious people a pass (because defining good and bad in those terms is the worst type of bad religious thinking). To the extent that they allow the attribution of good behavior to religious thinking, they foster all behaviors that are a product of religious thinking.

    This last statement is a subtle point. If religious thinking always leads to good behaviors, then we could use religious thinking as a surrogate for good behavior. If religious thinking does not always lead to good behaviors (and we know it doesn’t) then we need to use something outside of religious thinking to evaluate the behavior, or to modify the thought process such that it does lead to good behaviors. In other words, religious thinking by itself is incapable of telling if a behavior is good or bad.

    This is analogous to what Thomas Kuhn outlined in his “structure of scientific revolutions”. Science is done within a paradigm of premises. Scientific thinking within that scientific paradigm is self-consistent. When results are obtained that cannot be described within that paradigm, then a new paradigm must be generated which is incommensurate with the old paradigm. That is the new paradigm has scientific ideas and relationships that cannot be described in the terms of the old paradigm. Changing scientific paradigms is difficult because many scientists can’t think in terms of the new paradigm, and so can’t work within it. They must abandon long held premises and some cannot do that. The same thing is true of religions. When a religious individual prays and receives a divine revelation to kill one’s child (the way that Abraham and Andrea Yates did), either one continues to act in the religious paradigm, or one breaks with it.

    If people of religion wanted good behaviors (as opposed to religious behaviors), they would try to foster the thought processes outside of religion that lead to such behaviors (because religious thought processes are insufficient). They would try to foster those thought processes outside of religion especially when they conflict with religious beliefs. For the most part they don’t.

    Just to be clear, I don’t especially like to read medical blogs that discuss religion either. I especially don’t want to have to live under a system of laws where the religious beliefs of some dictate what people can or cannot do. Non-theists are a minority. We live at the whim of the theist majority. When that leads to unjust tyranny (as in California’s Prop 8), there is little we can do except protest, and unless those protests are heard and acted upon by enough people of good will, the tyranny will remain.

  29. #29 JohnV
    May 26, 2009

    PalMD: it’s late to be weighing in, but figured I should include an on topic comment. The most important thing is for you to blog about what you want to blog about. If its something you’re interested in, or personally vested in, then that makes for more compelling reading. That said, I’ll share my personal opinion below in a response to Seaweed :P

    Seaweed: just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone in your thinking. The novel which precedes my comment and follows yours is exactly why I’d really prefer to keep the religious hatred on the other blogs at SB (of which there are many to choose from). Hell, even if it is very rational, exceedingly verbose hatred (as opposed to nuggets of wisdom like “all xtians are douchebags”, which I have seen as a comment on scienceblogs), there are other outlets here for it.

    I would also like to add that I found it amusing that you specifically mentioned not being a fan of being called a child abuser etc, and daedalus2u managed to bring up Andrea Yates.

    Wonderful.

  30. #30 daedalus2u
    May 26, 2009

    JV, If you perceive my comment as hatred it is because you are projecting. You are projecting because you don’t understand. You don’t understand because you don’t want to understand. PalMD was right; he even used it as the title of the post. You won’t understand this post so why bother.

  31. #31 JohnV
    May 27, 2009

    Indeed. Someone says how he doesn’t appreciate it when the following aspersions are cast upon him because he’s not an atheist: “a child-abuser, an idiot, illogical, irrational, stupid, crazy, anti-science, Creationist, anti-evolution, racist, supporter of murder and torture and genocide, intolerant (I found that accusation to be ironic)”

    And you respond by bringing up Andrea Yates. Clearly, that was a comment made out of love and respect. My apologies.

    The gist of Pal’s post seemed to be, “can I talk about religion (or topic x) without driving away religious people (or topic x people) from the other topics I talk about”. I think it’s important to talk about religion in a medical context. It is certainly timely after the Daniel Hauser case.

    I think he can. Note that he raised the question without bring up a child murderer. Note that you answered someone by bringing up a child murderer. I don’t think you can.

    On the plus side, I doubt that people who read this blog would “turn to the other side”, even if they left because they felt it was turning into a hostile environment. I wouldn’t. Personally, it would just turn into another blog whose posts I sometimes read and whose comments I usually ignore.

  32. #32 daedalus2u
    May 27, 2009

    Andrea Yates didn’t kill her children because she was religious. She killed her children because she had postpartum psychosis and was delusional, psychotic, and infanticidal. Her religion didn’t have anything to do with why she killed her children, it may have provided the proximate delusional rationale, but what I see as more important is that it prevented those in her family and social network from preventing it from happening. What did her preacher say? “Pray harder”. What she needed was medical treatment and intervention to keep her and her children safe; medical treatment that her religious beliefs and those around her prevented her from getting. I don’t blame Andrea Yates for killing her children; she was delusional, psychotic and insane at the time. When someone is delusional, psychotic and insane, one is not responsible for their actions. I hold those around her who were not delusional, psychotic and insane responsible for not preventing her from killing her children.

    I brought her up in the context of Seaweed saying that he doesn’t give anyone a “pass” because of their religious beliefs and that he doesn’t know any religious person who does.

    The reason I brought up Andrea Yates was to contrast her with Abraham; someone who isn’t just given a “pass”, but is held up as the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Unless the religious people that Seaweed knows are not Jews, Christians or Muslims, then he does know religious people who have given religious people a “pass” due to their religious beliefs.

    If Seaweed actually doesn’t know any Jews, Christians or Muslims, then I will apologize for suggesting he lied when he said he didn’t give anyone a pass for their religious beliefs and doesn’t know anyone who does. If he does know any Jews, Christians or Muslims, then his statement is clearly and demonstrably false. The actions of Abraham clearly do represent behaviors that would be unacceptable in any non-religious context. Tying up a child, putting him on a bundle of firewood and raising a knife over him with the intent of killing him? That such behaviors are acceptable in a religious context is about giving religious based behaviors a “pass”.

    It is not a close call.

  33. #33 daedalus2u
    May 27, 2009

    Just to be clear, one of the reasons I think a lot about Andrea Yates and brought up Andrea Yates is because I don’t want any more mothers to kill their children because they are delusional, psychotic and infanticidal. I have done research in the physiology behind postpartum psychosis and think I have an explanation that explains both postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis and the infanticide that sometimes accompanies it. I think I have a treatment that will prevent and reverse postpartum depression, and will prevent postpartum psychosis. My mother had postpartum depression when I was 3, which allowed my older siblings free reign to abuse me. I still have PTSD from that. I am not saying this to try and apportion blame, but to explain my motivation for preventing such things.

    Unfortunately there is considerable stigma associated with depression and postpartum depression by people who have never experienced it. That stigma is made worse by people who have non-physical, non-physiological explanations (i.e. religious explanations) for things such as delusions and psychosis.

    Chemotherapy refusal due to religious beliefs is pretty obviously bad medical treatment and is straightforward to demonstrate. The refusal of psychiatric care and psychopharmacological treatment due to religious beliefs is no less of a problem, and is (I think) a lot more common. We only hear about it when there are tragedies such as Andrea Yates was involved in. Scientologists for example refuse all treatment by mental health professionals, calling it pseudoscience. Tom Cruise’s beliefs about depression are well known, are nonsense and are based on his religious beliefs.

    The care that Andrea Yates received prior to her killing her children was ineffective primarily because of the religious beliefs of her husband and the religious community that she was involved in undermined good medical care. Wikipedia has a good discussion of it. My hope is that people can learn from the terrible tragedy that Andrea Yates was involved in so as to make such tragedies less likely to happen in the future. I don’t see that religious institutions are doing anything to make that happen; as long as many give decisions based on religious beliefs a pass that will only continue.

  34. #34 catgirl
    May 28, 2009

    OK, I didn’t read through all the previous comments, but I want to offer my opinion as a reader. One of the things I like about this blog is that you don’t bring up racism, sexism, politics, or religion very much. I like to read about all of those things, but on different blogs. It’s good that you want to focus on medical issues, and posting about other things can get your blog side-tracked really fast, such as that one single post about abortion rights.

    The best way to keep readers around is to post often, which you already do. Still, the more often a blog is updated, the better, as long as they are still good posts and not just filler.

    I think the best way to get new readers is to just get other blog owners to link to your blog.

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