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Reminds me of the situation around one of theories that tries to explain SIDS - Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. If you had a kid, you know what it is - a newborn dying in his sleep for no apparent reason. You put a healthy baby to sleep in his bed only to find him dead in the morning. Fun stuff.

There are no exact explanation for the syndrome, but there are preventive measures (such as always let newborn fall asleep on his back) that statistically lessen the risk of it occurring.

One of the theories was that a typical crib mattress creates a fertile ground for some fungal growth. Coupled with chemicals found in the mattress, this creates weak poisonous gas emission, which ultimately kills the child. It's an older theory that was verified and formally considered invalid. However in one country, New Zealand, there's a doctor who has been a vigorously arguing in favor of this theory and now has a statistic to show that proper mattress wrapping nullifies the risk of SIDS. From what I've read, he had very hard time getting the authorities to even listen to his findings, leave alone to act on them.

I wish this lady the best of luck, she's got NYT on her side, I hope she takes a full advantage of this exposure.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudden_infant_death_syndrome

Unfortunately sometimes smart people believe dumb things, and Dr. Sprott is one of these people.

When you read the reasons why his "research" has been ignored you hear things like "vested interest", "cover up", and "politics".

Dr. T.J Sprott has a book, and several products for sale.

His "statistic" is bogus; the NZ authorities stopped recommending mattress wrapping in the 90s; he has no idea if babies slept or died on wrapped mattresses; yet he claims it as fact.

His paper was awful. That's why people didn't listen to him - he has weird ideas, he can't write them up, other research has tested his ideas and found them wanting.

He claims that decreases in SIDS are because of his mattress wrapping programme. He cannot explain why SIDS is dropping in countries that don't practice mattress wrapping. He cannot explain why SIDS was dropping in NZ before antimoney was addedd to mattresses.

Don't forget that he's not a medical doctor. He is a chemist.

People like Sprott are evil. They come up with some plausible sounding theory, and then they try to publish. No scientific journal wants it, so he self publishes, and publicizes. This creates fear and uncertainty in parents. And so children are at greater risk of death, because parents don't follow current best practice (which is still not perfect but at least is evidence based) and decide to try the advice of a wingnut.

Well, from what I've read the book and the products came substantially after he started voicing his concerns, which sort of implies that he might've taken the matter in his own hands since no one would listen to him.

Even assuming he is a complete loon, the theory of an environmental cause is actually quite plausible. Perhaps not fungus, not phosphorus, but something in the bedding that just knocks those kids out.

With regards him being evil - I don't really see it that way. Why do you say that parents stop following established best practices once they wrap their kid's mattress? Parents aren't idiots, are they? What he's advocating for is orthogonal to existing prevention measures, both easily combined.

> Parents aren't idiots, are they?

The very many parents who believed Wakefield[1] and didn't immunise their children prove you wrong. Some parents are scared, and want to do the best, and cannot assess risk, and cannot understand scientific research, and thus are vulnerable to woo.

See also "wifi is dangerous"; "cellphones are dangerous" etc etc.

> the theory of an environmental cause is actually quite plausible.

I have no problem with someone saying "Cot death could be caused by environmental factors. Let's do lots of good quality research to see if we can discover that cause."

Sprott did not do that. Sprott said 'I have found the cause. This is the cause. There is no room for doubt. By not following my advice you are killing babies. By arguing against my advice you are covering up mistakes that you've made, or you are corrupt'.

Sprott says that no babies have died on wrapped mattresses. This is false. Babies have died on wrapped mattresses.

Sprott claims that toxic gases are produced by fungus and the fire-retardant chemicals. This is false - it's not possible to generate those toxic gases unless you do weird things in a lab. (ie, it doesn't happen in the home when the mattress is used normally.)

So what he has done is diverted attention from correct information; made it harder for parents to remember and follow correct information; caused fear and uncertainty among scared people. He has ignored the very clear recommendations against his advice. And finally he's making money off this FUD; he's using the conspiracy theory as a marketing gimmick.

[1] A really nice overview here: (http://tallguywrites.livejournal.com/148012.html)

Yes (speaking as a parent), parents are idiots. We're expected to raise children without a real guide except our own life experience, flawed as that is. We are continually bombarded with media that expects parenting to look one way, while reality is far different. The scientific method doesn't work for parents; we generally try ad hoc procedures that reinforce our confirmation biases.

Yes, parents are idiots. It's a testament to the resiliency of children that any make it to puberty.

SIDs, while still too common, has dropped 70% in the U.S. since the "back-to-sleep" effort and the general awareness of the situation. Children under 6 months don't have a reflex to carbon dioxide poisoning, and their respiratory systems aren't fully developed, so it is easier for them to suffocate on their own breath pooling in too-soft mattresses or cribs with polyester blankets or bumpers. Risk factors for SIDs death include: winter, cigarette smoke exposure, respiratory illness, not breast-feeding, and not sleeping in the same room as an adult.

Winter? That is surprising. Do you know why a season is a risk factor?

Keeping an infant too hot is a risk factor. In winter people may use extra bedding, or thicker sleeping bags, or extra clothing, or reduced ventilation, or increased heating.


SIDS is another word for "looks like asphyxiation but we can't figure out how". There's no single cause. Babies sleeping on their tummies was one, since they just breathe back in their CO2. Other proposed causes include fungus, as you mentioned, and even infanticide.

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