An Update: The Skeptical Obstetrician, and her challenge to ‘debate’.
What has happened so far.
March 3, 2019. Dr Amy Tuteur intruded rudely on my Facebook page to challenge me to a debate – as she has challenged other breastfeeding advocates, individuals and groups. (Who sensibly refuse to engage with her.) I agreed to consider making arrangements for a moderated verbal debate no earlier than late May, provided she would read my book before then. This US-based retired (in 2003) obstetrician – an author boasting of a six figure advance for her book- has such a sense of entitlement that she then asked me for a free copy! I told her to buy a copy, as I had bought hers. She downloaded the cheap e-book that very night, she said. I was mildly hopeful that reading it would cure her of any desire to engage, as she would see that a mountain of science supported my case, not hers. (But having read her own book, I was acutely aware that, as Elizabeth Kenny rightly said, “Some minds remain open long enough for the truth not only to enter, but to pass on through by way of a ready exit, without pausing anywhere along the route.”)
May 27, 2019 Tuteur had posted what others described as a rude and aggressive ‘reminder’ meme on my Facebook page, once again challenging me, the day before I planned to contact her. Naturally, some of her fans joined in… and my refusal to engage at her convenience was repeatedly construed (earlier and then) as cowardice; even declared to be fear by this mind-reading doctor. (She found that fantasy “heartwarming” – which to me suggests something very sad about her personality.) When asked, she disclosed that she had merely “skimmed” my book, although reading it in full was a condition for engagement.
When I raised the question of procedure, how to set up an independently moderated location for a debate, limited to the two of us, she instantly set up and posted to my FB page a new FB page, offering me a co-administrator post – which she could revoke any time she chose. I deleted this instantly, as any site she hosted would be rapidly infested with bullying comments. She had by now decided -without asking – that it was to be a written debate– which I had explicitly said I was not prepared to spend time on.
Despite my explicit refusal to engage in any lengthy correspondence, she then plied me with some questions (one of which made me laugh out loud). I repeated my willingness to discuss topic and arrangements in late May. As I had said. Repeatedly.
She outlined instructions for how this discussion would proceed, with each of us posting a written reply to the other with no time frame set; suggested we start immediately; and told me to ask her the first question, as though I had chosen to engage her! I pointed out that she was the Initiator, she needed to advance a case that I would rebut. So she framed and posted a question, which I accepted, on May 29. This question was and is:
“Are the benefits of breastfeeding real and clinically relevant or merely theoretical and not reproducible in large populations?”
Despite her unilateral high-handed change from verbal to written dispute, I immediately agreed to respond to that question, once suitable arrangements had been made. I declined to answer immediately, ignoring her own and her followers’ taunts and suggestions of cowardice and delaying tactics. I again rejected Facebook as a suitable site. I set aside June 19-21 for the now-to-be-written dispute, knowing that there were processes to put in place (and there was more to do in my life than dealing with a person I see as nothing more than a common bully.)
After trying to reply sanely to days of posts better described as trolling, I repeated my position, and limited my FB page to Friends to prevent further intrusions. I did not accept Tuteur’s later Friend impertinent request!
As I knew process was important to keeping the debate civil and manageable,I started trying to find an affordable neutral online venue that could be accessed by no-one except the two disputants. This has involved to date consulting two technology firms and a Mac Users Group. And a process is being set up. This will involve the creation of a site where both of us can post in the specified time frame; the site will then be closed, and the dispute archived. I will also post a complete account on this website, and give permission for her to do the same: no excerpts, the complete document.
I also drafted some basic rules of engagement and a statement of common ground, to ensure fairness and that we did not waste time on issues where we agree. On June 11, I posted these on my public website https://infantfeedingmatters.com/the-minchin-tuteur-debate/and my Facebook page, once again public. At present I am awaiting a response.
However, much of what I might say in reply to her question is already contained in my book. And as I said repeatedly, I did not agree to a lengthy written debate. So it seemed time-saving to post online a copy of the first part of Milk Matters for free downloading at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333717900_Milk_Matters_Book_One_by_Maureen_Minchin
Which means that when we debate, in the period June 19-21 if we can agree on a site, I perhaps can simply indicate pages of my book or references to make some point.(I had intended to post that section of my book online in time for the World Breastfeeding Congress in Rio in November, to make it more widely available. So do note, this ex-obstetrician is not determining my actions, in this or anything else.)
Should Amy Tuteur not agree to the terms proposed, or try changing the rules or the discussion yet again, or try to insist that I engage sooner than the 19thor after the 21st, I will walk away from this debate and simply post online, and publicise globally, a full reply to the question that SHE set, and that I agreed to respond to. Not because I am afraid to engage with her, but because I consider her behaviour is irrational, and the discussion pointless, as so many US citizens with previous experience of her had advised me it would be. https://infantfeedingmatters.com/the-minchin-tuteur-debate/
However, now for the good news. Even if it has wasted some time, and I do not get the satisfaction of exposing Amy’s poor grasp of the science, accepting her challenge will have served the cause of public health. Within a day of posting online, over 5000 copies of the first part of Milk Matters (the scientific argument for the importance of breastfeeding and the risks of formula feeding) have been shared across the globe, Canada to Colombia, Norway to Nigeria, Brazil to Belfast. What’s not to love about that? Well worth the minor irritation of trying to deal with someone who thinks she can force others to engage on terms she sets unilaterally.
If interested in the science, Tuteur’s followers will find much that is of value and interest in my free book. And perhaps reading it will help to tone down some of the nastiness (based on false information and misinterpretation) that seems to have been fostered by her book and is tolerated on her page.
After June 21, I will revert to my former policy of ignoring Amy Tuteur, the former obstetrician, unless of course she, or those on her page, continue to troll me online. From that date I am no longer willing to discuss anything with a person who conducts herself so arrogantly: it is distressing and depressing that such an advantaged woman seems to have so little self-awareness.
I bear no ill will towards Dr Tuteur’s followers, even those whose posts are childish or rude. This is because I suspect that most of them are people who have been deeply hurt by the same healthcare systems that have damaged so many generations of mothers and their children, including me and mine. I understand their hurt and anger: the experience has motivated me in a lifetime of (mostly unpaid) work to help other families (whom I have never charged).
It is just a pity that anger is directed towards those who try to prevent the harms, and those who try, with varying degrees of competence, to help mothers feed as well as possible. Anger would be better directed towards the societal structures and those who profit from them, which includes not only pump companies and some lactation consultants, but also and far more powerfully, obstetricians and paediatricians and doctors and nurses ignorant about breastfeeding and human lactation, multi-national vested interests and complicit governments.
I truly hope that some of Amy’s followers will find information of value in my writing. My writing has never been about making money, though it is all that supports my work, and so I cannot yet post all my books online. It has also never been about fomenting the industry-created Mommy Wars, or generating sensational headlines and fake news to make profits for commercial publishers.
It has been about reducing harm and finding solutions, and it has led to incredibly positive feedback from parents and professionals alike.
I urge even those of Amy’s fans who call me “a monster”, a “vile lactivist”, or worse, to read it. I would deeply respect those courageous enough to recognise their past discourteous errors of judgement. We can all make mistakes; we are all people who should treat one another with respect. Contributing to emotive hate speech about any group damages everyone. Kindness and civility costs nothing, and is even good for you! Let the haters hate. I don’t. But I also don’t gladly suffer fools or arrogant doctors.