I’m Skeptical of Kate Tietje

{UPDATE 10/18/2014} A response from Pro Vaccine Shills has been added.

{2ND UPDATE 10/19/2014} Pro Vaccine Shills has removed the items in question and posted an explanation here.


This is not the article I thought I’d be writing next.


I’ve been debating Kate Tietje, at Modern Alternative Mama about the benefits and safety of vaccination. She started it. I responded, and two weeks ago, she wrote back. So I expected that the next time you heard from me, it would be to thoroughly refute her new article, challenge her core beliefs, and convince everyone, everywhere that they should vaccinate.


Sadly, this is not that article.


Today I came across a Facebook meme that gave me pause. It was from Pro-Vaccine Shills for Big Pharma, the Illuminati, Reptilians, and the NWO, obviously a rationalist humor page on FB and widely shared among the skeptical community on Facebook and various evidence based parenting groups.

Screen Captures from Kate Tietje's Facebook

The meme outlines through Kate’s own status updates how in early March, her son injured his arm, and then over the course of several days taking him to see first a “doctor” (with quotations added by the memester), then a chiropractor, and finally after seeing no improvement in 7 days, a doctor at an Urgent Care facility. She’s not making any claims or promoting her parenting, just talking about what is going on in her life with her fans/friends, in a relatively unguarded fashion.

For not seeing a real doctor sooner, the page slams her and her parenting, and the advice she gives to other parents. In the comments, several people, with reactions ranging from horror to glee point out this is child abuse, neglect, and ask Protective Services to take custody of her children.


They’re right, this is just… fucking awful.


I reluctantly began to call myself a skeptic when I realized that this wasn’t just a movement guided by some handed down doctrine. Skeptics adhere to science because science is the process of learning and understanding the truth. It’s self-correcting. Everything is given a critical eye. No idea is stronger than its merit, simply by virtue of who said it.


Well, Pro-Vaccine Shills, you aren’t skeptics. Or at least you can’t reasonably call yourself that again until you TAKE DOWN THAT POST AND FUCKING APOLOGIZE.


Look, I know how this happened. You drew a line in the sand and put her on the “other” side. Once she was there, you stopped looking very hard at the evidence coming from your side of it about her. She’s anti-vaxx, and pro-”smelly stuff is magic”, so clearly she’s a crazy person. Who knows what else she does?! It’s so easy to agree with people who you like, people who agree with you about other things.

But this is plainly an ad hominem attack. Her ideas about vaccination and food and essential oils are wrong because they aren’t supported by the remotest evidence, regardless of how she parents. But good ideas can come from bad places. That’s why we evaluate the merit of the idea, not the person. We don’t talk about her; we don’t talk about her kids. Even when the topic (parenting) appears to be what is at issue.


By the same token, I don’t condemn everything else you put up, there’s some funny stuff there. But you’re wrong about this. How do I know? I asked her.

From our email exchange:

Yes, the fact is that we saw an MD, our family doctor, the day after our son fell.  He had stopped crying immediately after the fall and showed no swelling, redness, or sign of any injury.  It was when we noticed he was avoiding the arm while crawling the next day (but not while eating or playing) that we grew concerned.  The family doctor said it was likely a strain and that we should watch him for a few days.  When he still wasn’t using the arm a few days later, we were advised to take him to urgent care for an x-ray — which we did.  Unfortunately, it was broken, and we then had it casted and followed up as appropriate with an orthopedist until it was healed.  In no way do we think that caring for a broken arm at home is appropriate and we unfortunately were told it wasn’t broken initially, by a “real” doctor.


I almost didn’t share that. It doesn’t matter that you are factually wrong, and appear to have deliberately misread something she said, the entire topic was inappropriate. But I wanted to make it clear; you should be embarrassed by this. 


This brings me to the root of the issue. It’s fun to have fun. I don’t object to having a joke at the expense of the other side, from time to time. It keeps us sane in a sea of pseudoscience. It’s easy to see our opposition disregard the evidence, disregard science and critical thinking and come away feeling like they can never be swayed. I think there was even a study to that effect. Beating your head against that wall can be frustrating. But if you want to have any hope of changing their minds, or changing the minds of the moderates who might read both sides, you’ve got to knock off the tribal bullshit, and be the adult.


Making fun of people who are wrong isn’t nearly as important as being right.

{UPDATE 10/18/2014}

Pro Vaccine Shills has responded with the following, which is sad.

Screen Capture of Pro Vaccine Shills Response












{2ND UPDATE 10/19/2014} ProVaccine Shills has posted a retraction here.

Screencap from ProVaccine Shills

















Featured Image used under CC License from Wikimedia Commons.

Erich Bacher

Erich Bacher is a father of two boys and an IT professional. He owns copies of Transformers: The Movie (1986) on DVD and VHS, frequently misspells certain words, and has an extensive collection of ideas.

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  1. Abso-fucking-lutely. Attacking this blogger in such a fashion seriously reduces the difference between yourselves and the fuckheads who attacked Kiran Chug for daring to teach her toddler about feminism. It’s a low blow and unworthy of people who claim the mantle of skeptics.

    1. Yes, this, so much.While I think that Kate Tietje is downright dangerous, there is plenty to criticize her on without resorting to spurious attacks based on supposition and unsupported allegations of child abuse which do completely mirror the kinds of misogynist attacks that women face whenever we talk about just about anything online.

  2. Couldn’t agree more with the idea of sticking to logical arguments and leaving personal attacks out of it. What I find interesting, speaking as a parent of a vaccine-injured child who no longer vaccinates, is that ‘our’ side think very similar things that you think about us: that you believe in pseudoscience, you have a religious-like faith in vaccines, and have a cult-like ‘herd’ mentality Keep that in mind. If you want to sway us, use well conducted, independent studies (no industry or government authored studies with conflicts of interest please). Don’t tell us that there is abundant evidence behind you to say that vaccines are safe when we’ve watched our children suffer terribly from them, and there has never been a purely non-vax vs vax study in a developed country, comparing the overall health of each population. We need to see hard evidence.

    1. cherie – while we’re against personal, ad hominem attacks, everything else you say isn’t valid. We’re not trying to sway the extreme unscientific folks like you. We’re trying to prevent more from falling for dangerous anti-science sentiments. When you understand the scientific method when it comes to medical and agricultural recommendations, you understand that singular studies aren’t what need examination. You need to look at over-arching trends from multiple studies (meta-analyses.) I have a feeling that further comments along these lines will be ignored, but I can’t speak for Erich and the other Grounded Parents.

      1. Kavin, funny we think we exact same thing about you: you’re extreme, unscientific and offer dangerous advice. Again, insults don’t mean anything, they are hollow.What matters is solid evidence – unbiased, independent studies. That’s what everyone in this debate should be looking for.

    2. One more point – I am truly sorry if your child was vaccine injured, or for whatever symptoms s/he may have suffered whether caused by vaccines or something unrelated. However, many claims of vaccine injury simply correlate with the time of vaccination and other circumstances, and vaccines weren’t the cause. I only speak for myself, but I can’t accept someone saying their child was vaccine-injured unless there is tangible proof validated by a credible medical professional.

  3. Well done Erich. As people who hold skepticism and critical thinking so dear, it’s important to call people out for bullshit, no matter whose “side” they’re on.

  4. Sorry to be so anal, but you missed something quite obvious. In her letter to you, she states:

    “It was when we noticed he was avoiding the arm while crawling the next day (but not while eating or playing) that we grew concerned.”

    On her facebook status update from the day BEFORE he saw the doctor (or chiro, as she did state that as well), she states:

    “Somehow, the baby seems to have hurt his arm. I really have no idea how and he uses it just fine if he’s sitting to play. But he will not crawl with it.”

    I’m a sucker for detail, and it appears as though she was not being honest with you. Her own followers told her to take the child to the ER, and she said she’d just hit up the chiro the next day. She’s been given a hard time, and is backpedaling to the best of her abilities.

    I have more issues with the article, but this discrepancy is what stood out to me the most. I would have questioned her on it… Except then she probably would have just blocked me.

    1. I will not engage in a detailed breakdown of Kate’s story or the timeline. The entire thing is based on her statements, then and now. There is no evidence. To argue that what she said then was trustworthy and what she said now is suspect is without warrant, in my opinion. The precise wording you are referring to jumps around in the timeline and I can see how it could appear to be contradictory. If you choose to believe that, that is your prerogative, but given that she is recalling an event from months prior, I’ll give her a little leeway before declaring her a liar.

      1. I’m not trying to start a detailed breakdown of the entire thing, I’m just point out something that, to me, was fairly obvious and relevant to your post. Especially when she had her own status updates to refresh her memory. I did not declare her a liar, I stated that it appeared as thought she was not being honest. I still feel as though it appears that way, although of course I cannot say for sure what was what.
        Where I was assumptive is where I said she’s backpedaling. I should have said that it seems as though she is, and in my opinion. I don’t know that she is, so I retract my phrasing for that statement.
        She either reported things inaccurately while they were happening, for whatever reason, or is reporting them inaccurately now. You and I just disagree on which is more likely.
        You say there is no evidence, but her written accounts and play by play from the day actual time of the event does qualify as something, at least to me.
        If you want to make an accurate report with her input, I think it would be fantastic to point out the discrepancy and ask her about it.
        I’m not debating whether the meme is right or wrong, just commenting on your analysis of the situation.

        1. Also, I’m not saying one statement of hers was trustworthy and one was not because of what the statement is. My judgement is based around when the statement was made.
          In no way does it “jump around the timeline” in her fb posts. It is in fact quite clear.

      2. “To argue that what she said then was trustworthy and what she said now is suspect is without warrant, in my opinion.” Sorry… you are wrong about that.

        Have you ever heard of hearsay, in the legal sense? Hearsay is an out of court statement being repeated by a third party. So if I say “my husband said ‘the dog ran away!'” and I try to offer that into evidence, I will be unsuccessful. That is because we can’t verify the accuracy of the speaker’s state of mind.

        There are exceptions to this rule, however. Almost all of them relate to situations where we can assume the speaker meant what he/she said. These exceptions are things like a dying declaration… we assume people’s last words are accurate. For example “Tony shot me!” is considered to be evidence that Tony did in fact shoot the speaker. If you seem someone get run over and scream “Oh my god! That red car just hit that kid!”, it is considered to be accurate, because most people don’t exclaim things like that voluntarily… it’s considered an involuntary statement.

        So applying these theories to this situation, it is clear that the secondary email is much more likely to be inaccurate, as it is easy to tamper with the situation… mold it to the writer’s needs. I’m not saying she did that. I’m just saying that trusting the later email is not the best way to handle this situation.

        Her comments on facebook, made AT THE TIME SHE WAS WITNESSING THESE THINGS or immediately thereafter, are much more likely to be accurate representations of the true situation.

        So people honestly are right to believe the facebook posts over the secondary email. That skepticism is exactly why hearsay rules in law exist. Statements at the time of a situation are much more likely to be accurate and untampered with. Statements made after the fact are less reliable.

        1. In both the original statements and the email reply, she was aware that she had an audience. If she wanted to manipulate how her parenting appeared, she could have done so from the beginning. And while I’d agree that in the strictest sense you might be able to apply slightly more weight to one than the other, dissecting both statements for apparent inconsistencies is foolish given that it would still only result in an ad hominem attack on her.

    2. Attentiveness to detail is great, but carrying it too far is exactly what leads otherwise intelligent people into conspiracy theories (or allows them to rationalize the conspiracy theories they have latched onto for irrational reasons). A discrepency in a story means only that; that there’s a discrepency. Jumping from a small discrepency in her description of the timeline of events to the conclusion that she’s lying to cover something up really isn’t that different, in principle, from jumping from a discrepency in press releases by NASA to the conlusion that they’re lying to cover up their knowledge of alien life. (Though admittedly the implausibility of the latter claim is much greater.) I think your comment is a small example of how an us-versus-them mentality can lead us to favor hypotheses that make our enemies look bad, at the expense of sound reasoning. This happens to everyone, which is why I think it’s important we never stop applying the tools of skepticism toward our own reasoning; skepticism is a process, not a state of being.

    3. In the original image, she says he was seen both by the chiro and the doctor.
      “Well. The doctor says N’s arm is fine.”
      top of the next column:
      “Chiro checked the baby’s arm [too].”

  5. I think there is a level of scrutiny here that we wouldn’t see if it were anyone else making decisions with regard to their child’s injury. What seems to have happened is this: 1. Child seems to injure arm, but it is seemingly a minor injury. 2. Parent is worried anyway about the child favoring the arm, seeks advice and help from multiple sources. 3. Eventually the child gets medical care, from an evidence-based source, and the arm is fixed. What’s notable about this story is that it took a fair amount of observation on the part of the parent to even recognise something was wrong. Surely any parent, even a skeptical parent, could find themselves in this situation – something is wrong, but it seems minor, but maybe the parent feels compelled to seek help anyway, and so some time passes before they can really get to the bottom of the problem.

    Anyway, there seems to be this attitude of entitlement to evidence. This blogger doesn’t owe it to us to provide proof that she did the right thing about her child’s arm. If someone is claiming that she mistreated her child, the burden of proof is on them, not on her. I don’t see sufficient evidence here that she did anything wrong.

  6. Injuries in children, especially broken bones, are notoriously difficult and difficult to diagnose.
    Early this summer my little one (4) hurt her ellbow. She fell with her bike. The arm was under the handlebar and she fell on top of it. Of course she cried and complained, but she’s also a masterclass actress*. So I comforted her at first and then told her to knock it off. I only believed her when she cried at night during her sleep.
    The next day I took her to the doctor, who sent us to get some X-rays. The X-rays showed signs of a fracture like internal swelling, but no fracture, because at that age not all bones are visible on x-rays. So we went to the hospital to see a surgeon.
    They proposed two things:
    Either we just put a cast on the arm and see what happens, or we put her into a CT, which would not only mean a hell lot of radiation on a small body, but also sedation cause kids that age don’t lie still. Needless to say, we went with the first option and went back to the doctor the next week to check. In the meantime she was happy and fine and used the arm mostly normal.
    They took off the cast, sent us to get some more X-rays and whenever anybody entered that room and even looked at the arm she cried that it would rip your heart in two. Nevertheless they decided to leave the cast off absed on the x-rays.
    Now, we have a little tradition: as the paediatrician is next to a McDonalds we visit that dreaded place of fries and cookies afterwards (unless they’re really sick). She went into the play corner while I went to get fries and coffee. When I came back she was climbing something, using both arms.
    So, yeah, half a dozen professionals could not tell for sure what was actually wrong.
    *as in she practises crying in front of the mirror.

  7. Our credibility is proportional to the soundness of our argumentation and standards – hats off to your levelheadedness and adherence to evidence and scientific principle!

    I very much enjoyed that same no-nonsense approach when you refuted the 11 out of 15 things MAM would like not hear again (where a lesser man might have over reached and gone for all 15), and I do so hope that you are going to write the response to her latest entry in your debate – as you mention in your intro above.

    In fact, your 11 of 15 article is one of the best counters I have read in a long time, so please don’t stop!

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