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Opinion, Fact, Knowledge, Bias

Opinion, Fact, Knowledge, Bias post image

Inside the bubble where chiropractors without medical degrees and Jenny McCarthy are fact-armed experts on toxins and vaccines, but medical doctors and scientists produce unresearched opinion.

The summer of 1995: South India with my parents and cousin. A few weeks into the trip, I developed a skin condition which caused the melanin in my face and forearms to disappear in small blotches. Alarmed and on the recommendation of a friend, my very-medically-proficient folks unwittingly rushed me to some quack. Not-A-Dermatologist took his own sweet time showing up, flicked my forehead, cheeks and forearms really hard with his dry, knobby fingers (for which I would have flicked him right back, if not for Mom), took no scrapings for microscopic analysis, diagnosed a skin infection, did not refer me to a dermatologist, took an exorbitant amount of money and showed us the door with a prescription for antibiotics. Nothing happened other than hits to my immune system and intestinal flora from ingesting unnecessary anti-bacterial drugs for a non-infection. A month later, in the heart of Tamil Nadu, a village homeopathist offered to see me and swore just from looking into my eyes that my blood “was spoiled and could be purified” and proceeded to give me a paste with MERCURY in it (that I refused to ingest).

Back in Chennai at the end of the summer, Dad’s pathologist sister came to visit and, on seeing my condition only worsen, took me to see her actually-board-certified dermatologist friend who examined my skin thoroughly and then said, “You live in America, right? Don’t you have access to some of the best sun-blocking creams?” Black does crack, it turns out. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am probably the only dark-skinned person you know who burns and loses melanin in the sun, which leaves inverse freckles and blotches. One week and half a tube of 30+ SPF gunk later, my skin cleared up.

In a recent group conversation about eating well for good health, a friend of a friend brought up eating only organic foods to flush the body of Toxins that cause cancer and other ailments. If you want to know how I feel about Toxins Dun Dun Duuuuuun as an amorphous, anti-drug, anti-chemical catch-all term, read this and this. The former is a thoughtful history and explanation of the modern American obsession with Human Toxicity by a surgical oncologist and the latter a piece by a young scientist on why commercial detoxification therapies are bunk. Both explain clearly what toxins are and aren’t, and how bacteria and viruses cause more diseases than anything else. When I presented both articles for friend’s friend’s consideration, I was told that they were “unresearched opinion” and to educate myself because, get this, “knowledge is power.”

I will not talk with toxin-obsessed, anti-vaccination strangers.
I will not talk with toxin-obsessed, anti-vaccination strangers.
I will not talk with toxin-obsessed, anti-vaccination strangers.

Towards the end of our chat, I almost sent the link to Facts About Dihydrogen Monoxide, but what would have been the point? The bubble explodes and causes a huge mess?

You may ask why I engage such people, but a) you don’t know they are “such people” until the Impasse of Irrationality and b) it’s my responsibility as a scientist, friend and concerned human being to inject reason and facts where they aren’t, especially when lives and health are at stake. These are folks who refuse to vaccinate their children and would rather feed their family and themselves truly harmful heavy-metal-laced concoctions, unnecessary minerals, antibiotics and “organic” foods, all in the name of removing bullshit toxins from the body. Not all foods labeled “organic” are indeed free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers and eating unwashed organic fruits and vegetables is probably more harmful to you than processed foods. Granted, I stay away from fast food, except when on a long road trip, but calorie intake and trans fats are my motivators, not mythical cancer-causing Toxins which can be Leached Out with juices, oils, footpads and Anions for energy boosts. Eat everything in moderation, drink lots of water, get a good night’s sleep, exercise, use your brain and get an annual checkup if you can.

Another thing: I have nothing against licensed chiropractors, but I don’t want a gastroenterologist cracking my back, if you catch my meaning.

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Opinions are not facts. Facts are not opinions.

They are not the same and do not constitute opposing viewpoints of equal merit.

Beware of false balance: Are the views of the scientific community accurately portrayed?

The public should be able to get information on all sides of an issue — but that doesn’t mean that all sides of the issue deserve equal weight. Science works by carefully examining the evidence supporting different hypotheses and building on those that have the most support. Journalism and policies that falsely grant all viewpoints the same scientific legitimacy effectively undo one of the main aims of science: to weigh the evidence.

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Another kind of bias is bias perpetuated by its purported removal.

Be it in the corporate or academic world, I am increasingly tired of men in power smugly saying, “We don’t see gender, just the quality of your work.” That statement rings completely hollow to me, because it implies that women inherently produce work of lesser quality and is a cop-out not to address an unwritten policy of sexism. If the business is truly gender-unbiased, why are more men groomed and promoted from a pool of men and women? Unless no man or a complete dud applies for a position, why is a man always offered it over an equally-qualified woman? Perhaps if management were to look at the abilities and track records of ALL candidates more closely, truly without a focus on gender, more women will be seen climbing the ranks.

I present the essays of three scientists that address this inherent blindness that masquerades as impartiality. Thanks to the latest sexist brouhaha, this time associated with Nature magazine.

Kelly Hills: How Many Times Does “Don’t Promote Misogyny” Need to Be Discussed?  “If they had a lot of Flat-Earth letters, would they feel compelled to publish one? If so, they might want to rethink their editorial judgement.”

Anne Jefferson: Megaphones, broken records and the problem with institutional amplification of sexism and racism “To my read, it appears that implicit or explicit biases are reducing the number of African-American applications that get scores that make the discussion cutoff, but that once an application is discussed it has equal likelihood of getting funded regardless of the color of the applicant’s skin.”

Kate Clancy: The Way We Produce and Advance Science “I know many of us operate on fear—fear of being scooped, fear of not getting tenure, fear of not having enough funding to do our work, fear even of being exploited ourselves. But we cannot let fear motivate a scheme that crushes potential bright future scientists. The criteria for scholarly excellence should not be based on who survives or evades poor treatment but who has the intellectual chops to make the most meaningful contributions.”

It is 2014, as Anne reminds us, and all I want is to live in a world a society that shows physical and intellectual progress, not the return of previously-dead diseases and the extension of the notion of white/male superiority for absolutely no valid reasons. If we fight irrationality, blind faith and brute force abroad, we have to fight for reason here, or else what are we trying to protect?

And, if you take anything at all away from this post, it is this: There is nothing wrong with not having thought through, but with refusing to think through.

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Credits: “Anions are molecules” photo by @thisischristina

1 comment… add one

  • Andrea January 17, 2014, 4:49 PM

    And of course, if we present them with evidence, they’ll say “well it hasn’t been tested enough yet” or “but I have evidence too” and point me to mercola.com or my favorite, “the government and/or scientific community is COVERING SOMETHING UP”

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