I've written about Michael Odent before here and here. For those not familiar with him, he is a retired French obstetrician, credited with, among other things, introducing water births.
This weekend he got himself a piece in the Guardian to promote his new book: The Birth Of Homo, The Marine Chimpanzee. I'll be honest, I've not read the book and I probably won't. Based on the Guardian piece I'm not sure that either my head or my desk could take it.
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To be fair to the Guardian they do a very good job of politely questioning Odent's claims and bringing in experts in the field to counter them. But I'm not the Guardian, one of the great joys of having my own blog is that I don't have to be polite. So I'm not going to be:
Michael Odent is talking bollocks.
What's worse, he is spouting this guff from a position of assumed authority. A position that lets him spout it in the national press. Where people could be forgiven for believing it.
So, what has he actually said this time?
The book apparently relies heavily on the Aquatic Ape theory. The idea that, at some point in human evolution, we lived by and in the sea. It's a compelling idea and quite a popular one, although not with so much with evolutionary biologists. Thanks here to Professor Alice Roberts who I asked about this on twitter:
But it's not just the ancient history that is questionable in Odent's book. He manages to get in both Epigenetics and the Microbiome. Biology's current buzz words. Both are fascinating fields but scientifically they are barely past the newborn stage and there is no conclusive evidence for how or if they are altered by childbirth never mind if any differences actually matter.
Odent claims that Caesarean birth is somehow altering epigentics and causing Autism, a claim well countered in the Guardian piece so I won't go into it more here.
But it's not just Autism, Odent believes that the entire human race is doomed because we have side stepped evolution by using modern medicine to help infertile couples conceive and women who would have died in childbirth to survive.
Michael Odent thinks that humanity's end is neigh because women like me weren't taken out of the gene pool by dying agonizing deaths along with our babies.
Well yes, left to nature me and my three children would not be here. Modern medicine was life saving for both me and my first baby and without it the other two would never have been born.
But without modern medicine those particular babies would probably never have been conceived anyway. Their father wouldn't have made it through a childhood case pf pneumonia. Without vaccines, maybe one of us would have succumbed to smallpox or polio? I could have died years before getting pregnant if there were no antibiotics to treat the many ear infections I got from too much time in water.
Without modern agricultural techniques would we both have made it to adult hood? I certainly wouldn't be almost 6 feet tall.
Everything our species has done since we first sharpened a piece of flint into a tool or wrapped ourselves in an animal hide for warmth has altered our chance of survival and cheated natural selection of a few more victims. To single out childbirth, the only one of those things that exclusivly kills women and babies, is bizarre.
The modern world is a very long way from perfect. But Odent suggests he has new and terrifying evidence about the fate of mankind. That what is going to destroy us, in the not too distance future, isn't politicians who fail to tackle climate change, war lords who care only about their own power and righteousness or world leaders who ignore disasters and instead play golf and engage in international nuclear pissing contests. No, the thing that will bring about the end of humanity is all these modern women who refuse to lie there quietly and die like they should.