Thursday, December 24

Gift of the Season

When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it - this is knowledge. - Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC), The Confucian Analects

During this season of gifts I am offering you the freedom that I have newly acquired.

This freedom may:
- reduce personal guilt
- improve your skills of judgement
- identify phony, concocted mind gobbledygook
- increase the money in your bank account
- enlarge available space in your medicine cabinet
- remind you of what you already know, by may have forgotten

All this from a book, the blessed place where a soul and mind can develop gracefully.

BAD SCIENCE by Ben Goldacre is the book and he is a practicing public health doctor working in London, UK. He also writes a column for the Guardian to help the common person stop their idiocy and return to a smarter place.

Are you concerned when you attempt to purchase a multi-vitamin, by the number of choices, that you fondle 10 – 15 bottles before taking one home?
Perhaps you are tired of the late night news telling you about one more thing you should do to reach optimum health?
Frustrated with the remedies friends email you with when word gets out that you have the sneezing, coughing, head-so-stuffed-you-can’t-think illness?
Surprised that the diet industry makes 600 billion dollars per year and that you yourself may have contributed? (Please exclude the pills you needed to take for your strong health.)
What of all those remedies, needles, natural supplements, massages, hot stone therapies, drinks, potions, etc. Tired of those too? Or guilty that they have not succeeded as well as they were supposed to.

For my part, after years of hearing about them, I began a simple cleanse of natural pill supplements that was supposed to last for 2 weeks. Three days into it, my body said “no” in a definite way physiological way. I emailed the company to see if what I was experiencing was normal. I was told it was not and I should stop taking their product and return it to the store for a full refund. The guilt I have encountered because of my great inability to physically complete a cleanse (a necessary experience in today’s health world), has not been life altering but significant enough. After having read Bad Science, the guilt has disappeared altogether.

For a peak into the world of health without craziness, here are a few of the best bits from the book:

All too often this spurious privatisation of common sense is happening in areas where we could be taking control, doing it ourselves, feelings our own potency and our ability to make sensible decisions; instead we are fostering our dependence on expensive outside systems and people...But what’s most frightening is the way that pseudoscience makes your head go soggy. – p. 19
Trials have been done on homeopathy, and it seems that overall, homeopathy does no better than placebo...People do experience that homeopathy is positive for them, but the action is likely to be in the whole process of going to see a homeopath, of being listened to having some kind of explanation for your symptoms, and all the other collateral benefits of old-fashioned, paternalistic, reassuring medicine. – p. 58+

The fairy tale of antioxidants is a perfect example. Sensible dietary practices, which we all know about, sill stand. But the unjustified, unnecessary over complication of this basic dietary advice of the greatest crimes of the nutritionist movement...I don’t think it’s excessive to talk about consumers paralyzed with confusion in supermarkets. – p. 129

...sold one compelling message: that you need to take pills to lead a healthy normal life, that a sensible diet and lifestyle are not enough in themselves, and that a pill can even make up for failings elsewhere. ..this generation of schoolchildren, reared on pills, will continue to bear rich fruit for all the industries [including the pill, big pharmaceutical companies]. – p. 154 – 155

These corporations run our culture, and they riddle it with bullshit. – p. 233

...this fascinating brand of scholarship [nutrition] – is now penetrating, uncriticised, unnoticed, the heart of our academic system, because of our desperation to find easy a world that has apparently forgotten the importance of critically appraising all scientific claims. – p. 178

Economists and doctors talk about ‘opportunity costs’, the things you could have done, but didn’t, because you were distracted by doing something less useful. – p. 336

‘Communal reinforcement’ is the process by which a claim becomes a strong belief, through repeated assertion by members of a community. The process is independent of whether the claim has been properly researched, or is supported by empirical data significant enough to warrant belief by reasonable people. – p. 253
This is the quintessential message of the book: what do you believe that on second thought is ridiculous but you have heard it so often, you forgot to truly process this piece of information? Ben Goldacre also reminds us that health crazes are just that, crazy; homeopathy is not scientifically based medicine, with proper research, critiqued by peers, then published in academic journals; pharmaceutical companies use people as guinea pigs and care about money; we have stopped using our critical assessment tools and we need to begin dissection the news stories we hear concerning science and health; we should research statistics that people regurgitate around us; most news stories are written by generalists to sensationalize; what ‘evidence-based medicine’ actually is; what ‘regression to the mean’ looks like when we are ill; what bullshit looks like; asks us to further deepen our understanding of our own bodies and the world around us. Most importantly Ben reminds us that:

People aren’t stupid. Anybody can understand anything, as long as it is clearly explained – but more than that, if they are sufficiently interested. – p.335
This book kept me ‘sufficiently interested’ and has reminded me that I am smart, that I never really did nor will I ever believe most of the information I hear about health, wellness and science in popular culture. May you also take the opportunity to read this phenomenal book and take the time to research more from Ben’s website:

Good intelligent health to you all!

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