I’ve written the piece below with very little attention to style, and apologise in advance for its matter-of-fact nature:
I’m not a doctor. I’ve been told that, chronologically, I’m just over halfway to being one, but I struggle to accept it. It doesn’t feel true, except, a bit, when I’m speaking to people who have absolutely nothing to do with the healthcare field.
It’s always scared me a bit that, for close to two thousand years, up until about the mid-nineteenth century, humoralism (or ‘humorism’ if you prefer) was the preeminent mode of treatment for disease. Well I’m not scared by that fact so much as that, for those many, many years, the belief - and the consensus - was that it was correct. And that’s just one example.
As such, I’ve always (for the most part unknowingly) subscribed somewhat to the philosophy of pessimistic meta-induction. Basically, it’s the idea that, seeing as so many scientific concepts of yesteryear were wrong, it’s quite likely we’re wrong today too. It’s a highly debated, not entirely accurate theory, because science tends to progress in a honing, exponential manner.
Nevertheless, it’s certainly something to keep at the back of our minds, because it encourages us to question science and, more importantly, the conclusions derived from its findings. This is, without doubt, necessary, particularly in an age when information is being uncovered at such an incredible rate.
However, this skepticism is a double-edged sword, particularly now, in a near-overwhelming counter-culture, where every societal norm is pushed, every scientific conclusion is questioned, and anyone with an opinion and an input device can thrash out a blog (oh, the irony). It’s dangerous, because it can be harmful, particularly when it comes to medical science.
In the past while, we’ve seen a resurgence of polio and measles due to some scientific fraud, the rise of several fad diets based on no genuine scientific evidence, and ignorant movements for and against various drugs. It’s said that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but nobody specified to whom.
I am certainly in favour of patient advocacy, and I believe patients need to be more involved in their care, and have a greater understanding of their illnesses. I am not, however, of the belief that a more informed patient is capable of making fully informed decisions.
Another critical concept to grasp is that of scientific uncertainty. Uncertainty is ever-present in science, which many assume makes scientific methods unreliable. In fact, the awareness of and ability to quantify uncertainty is one of the main reasons decisions based on scientific rigour are our best option.
Next time you or a family member are ill, do some research, ask questions and keep abreast of the condition. Use this information to find someone capable, someone who has studied (more than 10000 hours, if you think that matters) to have all the information (or the closest to it you’ll find), and, equally importantly, the ability to interpret the information to suggest decisions based thereupon. Feel free to get more than one opinion too.
Just bear in mind that sometimes esoteric concepts and terms aren’t so just to confine them to an elite circle, but simply because they’re extremely complicated, and take years of study to grasp, and also remember that not every exciting headline is correct. In fact, they’re usually misleading because most of the time it’s the boring stuff that makes the biggest difference.