I’m not a doctor or scientist, just a science junkie and have been ever since I picked up a Scientific American in 1983. As a result, I’m slightly better equipped than the average Jane when it comes recognizing woo.
About this same time, a co-worker gave me a book on homeopathy and well… you know at the time, parts of it almost made sense? A good background in English helped me out there as much as any knowledge of science. Bad writing often equals bad logic.
I was also influenced by my family doctor – John Ellis. Whether his research on B6 is worthy, I honestly don’t know, but he was a good GP. He didn’t prescribe B6 for anything I ever went to him for. He was basically a country doctor in a small town, who people called on for advice about their cattle as quickly as they did their children.
I wanted to believe that everyone promoting a vitamin or herbal remedy was the same kind of person — well-intentioned at the very least. That is simply not a workable everyday ideal. Some people are out to make a buck by selling you worthless concoctions or contraptions. Unfortunately some may even be harmful.
I have a nephew with severe autism and developmental disorders. He’s a beautiful boy and I was well aware of the anguish my brother-in-law and his wife were going through trying to help their daughter raise him. After seeing Jenny McCarthy on TV, I emailed them about her book. I didn’t research it, I was grasping at straws for them. While they may have read the book, they stuck with their doctors and never mentioned it to me. For that reprieve, I’m grateful.
Do you see how even a not really quite completely stupid person can be so easily taken in? I swear I’ve learned my lesson! I question everything now and try to apply what little learnin’ I’ve got. I thank Orac and PalMD (and others) for the lessons. In my defense, the episode about Jenny McCarthy I saw concerned restricting gluten, not blaming vaccines.
I remember waiting in line in the 50s for my polio vaccine. I remember older relatives who got the disease instead of the vaccine. No one has to convince me that vaccines are worthwhile. But gluten restriction? To a layman, that sounds like something sort of reasonable.
What do you do about people like me? I’m not an enemy of evidence-based medicine (though I am leery of government bureaucrats deciding what evidence is worthy) and I’m certainly not a believer in something as silly as crystals and pyramids. How do you get the word out to people who are basically like me, but not necessarily science junkies? Look how long, how much it took, for me to really learn to discern. (I must add that it’s anthropology that really grabs my interest.)
Most of the stuff on HuffPo that Orac and PalMd post about would not fool me. My goodness, these people are not only scientifically illiterate, but also logically illiterate to the point that anyone with a minimal understanding of the logic of language should be able to see through their non-valid arguments.
I should also point out that I don’t necessarily agree with scientists about everything. I often wonder how their superior abilities at logic lead them to lean strongly toward the left politically. This doesn’t mean I’m right wing (because their logic is also less than superior, IMHO). Basically, I can’t find a political ideology that fits my ideas. Perhaps I’m a centrist, if that can mean I find both “sides” equally unappealing.
This post is probably no help at all in the quest to find a way to present evidence-based science to the general public, but I hope that it will give the scientists some idea of how at least one small part of the public reasons.