Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Bad science dangerous to children

Jerry Stratton, July 29, 2005

So, once again, drug warriors without facts on their side have been turning to “for the children” arguments to bolster their cause--even if those arguments harm actual children.

And what do the scientists say?

We are deeply disappointed that American and international media as well as some policy makers continue to use stigmatizing terms and unfounded assumptions that not only lack any scientific basis but also endanger and disenfranchise the children to whom these labels and claims are applied.

Too often, media and policymakers rely on people who lack any scientific experience or expertise for their information about the effects of prenatal exposure to methamphetamine and about the efficacy of treatment.

This doesn’t come as any surprise. Prohibition supporters tried the same thing in the eighties when they made up the term “crack babies” to justify an unjustifiable drug war.

Turns out there was no such thing as a crack baby; at worst, there were alcohol babies. But with the press and with drug warriors touting the incurability of crack babies, we ended up putting mothers in jail and putting their children into orphanages. We passed laws against having babies. Some women had abortions to avoid giving birth and running afoul of these bad laws. Child abusers used the crack baby myth to explain why their adopted children seemed malnourished and antisocial.

Why would drug warriors resurrect old terms that they know cause harm to children? Because it isn’t the children they care about. It is their jobs and their power. And it is because, when it comes to drugs, we are willing to jettison clear thinking; and when it comes to children, we are willing to jettison clear thinking. Put the two together, and even people who should know better become afraid of telling the truth. But we can only solve problems when we know what the problem is. David Borden, of DRCNet, writes:

It may be even more important, then, to ask what the policies should be regarding drugs that do cause harm to the fetus, alcohol, for example. Should the mother be arrested, taken to the hospital in handcuffs, then taken back still bleeding to a jail cell, the child separated from her during the important first hours and days of bonding, as has happened in South Carolina where the prosecutions of pregnant drug-using women were pioneered? The prevailing view in the medical and public health professions is no, such an approach ends up driving people away from needed prenatal care and treatment that would help their children. It is a senseless approach--an immoral approach--regardless of one’s moral view of the actions of the mother. So scientific thinking as well as medical wisdom need to be brought to bear on this level of things as well.

This is just one of the many ways in which drug warriors have failed to reason correctly.

The worst part of this is that some people who should have known better, supported the “crack baby” myth in the hopes of increasing funding for underprivileged mothers and children. But their support backfired, resulting in draconian laws, neglect of healthy children, and abortions of healthy fetuses. It’s an important lesson: using bad science to justify good policy, results in bad policy. Using bad science to encourage positive social change is just as likely, if not more so, to encourage dangerous social changes.

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