The pregnancy wars

By Razib Khan | August 21, 2013 1:43 pm

I don’t currently have time to read Emily Oster’s Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong and What YouReally Need to Know, but I am very excited that it came out. Having had a pregnant wife and becoming a parent has made it clear to me that much of ‘conventional wisdom’ in regards to both parenting and pregnancy are socially enforced norms which have marginal empirical grounding (this is clear when you look at the huge variation in cross-cultural expectations even in developing societies). So I’m glad that Oster is pushing this issue in a somewhat more rational and hard-headed fashion that has previously been the case (i.e., some of people who I think have good ideas about skepticism of the idea that every pregnancy is a medical emergency waiting to happen at any moment, also try to sell you on ‘alternative medicine’ more generally). It doesn’t help that she’s within the penumbra of University of Chicago’s academic celebrity.

But the reason I’m posting right now is that the book’s Amazon page is a case in point in regards to the intersection between pregnancy and the culture wars. Of 50 reviews as of this writing 20 give it five stars, 2 give it two stars, and 28 give it 1 star!

MORE ABOUT: Health, Pregnancy
  • Richard Seiter

    I think the 1 star reviews for this book are more about review bombing by a fetal alcohol syndrome group than the culture wars in general. (i.e. I don’t see the split between the natural pregnancy and medicalization of pregnancy “camps” I expected) (Perhaps you are referring to the tactics common in the culture wars? Some of the reviews show those quite nicely.)

    • Anthony_A

      It’s the zeal of the reformed sinner – most of the 1-star reviews were left by women who drank *so much* during their pregnancy that they damaged their kid. All that alcohol seems to have dulled their critical thinking abilities.

  • Anita Mahadik

    Hey Razib, I just checked out the reviews from Amazon page and I found it the rating to be very poor. This book has just got 2.8 stars out of 5. About 63 people have already voted and most of them have provided 1 star for the book.

    Now I don’t know about the actual content of the book but the writer Emily must have taken lots of efforts to come out with unconventional methods to follow during pregnancy. Anyways, it is good to have a look at it at least for a while if you just want to check out what does the author wants you to do during pregnancy…

    • razibkhan

      i mentioned the ratings in the post. did you not read the post before leaving a comment?

      • Dmitry Pruss

        But you could have mentioned that all the furor is rather one-dimensional. Of the myriad societal and medical demands on pregnant women, it picked one narrow hot-button issue of alcohol. I mean the book might be interesting and multi-faceted, but all the firestorm about it is not.

  • gcochran

    The fact that her last excursion into biomedicine, in her well-publicized Ph.D. thesis [she suggested that prenatal hepatitis B explained the low sex ratio in Asia !] , was utter nonsense, refutable in a New York minute, ought to keep people from even bothering to open any book with her name on the cover, but it probably doesn’t.

  • Odoacer

    Physicists have a great track record when it comes to migrating other fields and really making huge progress, does the same apply to economists?


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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