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At the feet of experts


Guardian journalist and science writer Melissa Davey has used the occasion of yet another hyperbolic medical scare story in the media to explain exactly what’s wrong with science reporting.

We are. For rejecting science and swallowing pseudo-science. For believing or disbelieving what we’re told by self-interested and often self-proclaimed experts in fields in which we lack expertise.

We need to get more educated. We need to find experts who can teach us how to tell which experts are exaggerating, guessing, lying, mistaken or just plain wacky. After we’ve consulted other experts on whether to believe those ones of course. Then we’ll be experts too. So we’ll know.

Apparently Ms Davey has discovered some kind of one-size-fits-all critical thinking skill that can be used to evaluate each of the often conflicting health claims the media barrages us with daily. One that can give us sufficient grasp of genetics, epidemiology, nutrition, pharmacology, radiology, oncology, the philosophy of science, etc, etc to be able to reliably tell the difference between what’s surprising but credible and what’s pure fantasy.

One that can teach us enough about the ontological underpinnings of neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry and scientism to recognise whether their claims about truth, meaning, mind, morality and mental health are built on dubious dogma or ‘scientific fact’.

That will help us overcome the impatience, arrogance and poor communication skills of overworked clinicians so we can ask our doctors “How do you know this will work?” and expect an answer we can incisively interrogate for reliability and truth value without over-running our ten minute appointment allocation.

That will dispel our hopes, fears, prejudices, ideologies and confirmation bias sufficiently to enable us to accurately weigh the pros and cons of information that might influence our life or death decisions about healthcare.

That will render transparent the agendas, institutional pressures and conflicts of interest affecting bloggers, journalists, spokespeople, drug companies, homeopaths, NGOs, publishers, think tanks, sales reps, doctors, pharmacists, researchers and academics and enable us to ask skeptical questions such as “Why might a bureau chief for a multinational media organisation be telling us that readers, not writers or publishers, should take responsibility for dodgy medical journalism?”.

That can tell us who is being paid to say what, even if they were never explicitly told to.

Hopefully Ms Davey’s next column will reveal where such a philosopher’s stone for snake oil can be purchased. I could use one of those.

From → confusion

  1. my personal trick:

    1. follow the money
    2. follow the sources
    3. is it The Scientific Method?
    4. where’s the proof?
    5. opinion vs observation vs analysis

    lots more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Before I can accept or reject your suggestions I’ll need to find someone to teach me how to tell whether you know what you’re talking about.

      Please summarise yourself in five syndromes or less so I can have you evaluated by the appropriate specialists.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve got a simpler system.
      If it’s in the press and called a breakthrough it’s probably bullshit.


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