Just kidding, I don’t have ten reasons.
As a young adult, I used to watch David Letterman pretty faithfully and enjoyed his funny “Top Ten” lists. They usually poked fun at a current event or personalities or other such nonsense, and they made me laugh. Now it seems like anyone can come up with a Top Ten list to be posted online, only these lists aren’t funny. Much of the time, though, they are nonsense.
As a people, we seem to be losing our ability to think critically about what we read. Before we believe another “Top Ten Reasons Why” article or share it with our friends, we need to be asking ourselves some questions. Is it actually true? Does it matter? We need to be careful about what we believe to be true because what we believe affects the way we behave and the decisions we make. And we should value our friends enough that we also want them to be making decisions based on truth.
Here are a few things we should be asking ourselves as we read an article:
Who Is the Author?
Listen, everyone has an agenda. We all have our own biases. In medical training, this is an important concept in evaluating research literature. Are the authors being funded by a drug company such that they have a personal stake in the outcome of their study? Are there other factors that might be influencing their point of view? Is that article on the benefits of organic food being written by an organic farmer? Is the advice about taking a bunch of supplements penned by someone who is profiting from the sale of the product? Not that articles written by people who have a personal stake should be discounted… but the bias should be recognized and taken into account as you evaluate what is being said.
Likewise, do we believe something just because it is being advocated by a celebrity? Do I choose to take vaccine advice from Jenny McCarthy rather than scientists who have really done the studies? Do I base my cancer treatment on what Chrissy from Three’s Company advocates? Please, no.
Finally, not all doctors are created equally or have the same fund of knowledge. The letters behind the name don’t automatically prove credibility. My specialty is family medicine, so you would be unwise to take advice from me about specific treatments for cancer. I am not up to date on the latest cancer drugs and research because that’s not the specialty of medicine that I practice. You also probably don’t want to get advice about your psychiatric medication from my surgeon husband. It’s OK to be critical even of the “M.D.” or “D.O.“ or “PhD.” blogger. It’s hard to admit, but we really don’t know everything about everything. (Yes, even Dr. Oz)
Does Relationship Equal Cause?
This is a big one. Just because two things prove to be linked in a study does not always mean that one causes another. Here is a humorous example: “Sleeping with one’s shoes on is strongly correlated with waking up with a headache. Therefore, sleeping with one’s shoes on causes headache.” Because the two are related, the false assumption is made that one causes the other, when in reality both are caused by a third factor—going to bed drunk.
We have to keep in mind that other variables have to be ruled out in order to really prove that one thing causes another. When we read that A is linked to B, we have to look deeper. Does A really cause B? Or could other factors be involved?
Related to this is the problem of sample size. I read an article not long ago where the author was proposing that people might not need antibiotics for Strep throat because one time she had Strep, she didn’t take antibiotics, and she hasn’t had Strep throat again since then. The problem with this? Her sample size is ONE. She is taking her own personal experience and making broad generalizations. Be careful about accepting one person’s individual experience as being true for everyone.
Is This Information Just Plain False?
People exaggerate. People lie. People write things that are just untrue. Maybe they do it on purpose, maybe they just don’t know better. Maybe they want to write something “buzzworthy” so it will get reposted over and over. But as readers, we have to be willing to question what is being proposed.
Here is an example taken from an article I saw recently about the ‘dangers’ of the flu vaccine: “Its a known fact that Flu vaccines contain strains of the flu virus along with other ingredients. Now think about the impact such a vaccine can have over someone with a suppressed immune system? If you have a disease that is already lowering your body’s ability to fight a virus, taking the flu shot will put your body in danger of getting the full effects of the flu and make you more susceptible to pneumonia and other contagious diseases.” (http://www.undergroundhealth.com/10-reasons-why-flu-shots-are-more-dangerous-than-the-flu/)
There is just no truth to this claim. There is no study. There is no science. Just an author’s mistaken understanding of how vaccines work. But if we don’t think critically when we read things like this, will we just blindly believe it?
Let Us Think
Friends, let’s be responsible. This isn’t just having fun on the internet. Believing and spreading false information can actually be dangerous. People are becoming sick and sometimes dying from vaccine preventable diseases. Parents are sensing that they’re being unjustly judged because they let their kids play on an iPad. People are worried that if they don’t eat a 100% organic diet, they’re going to get cancer. If they feed their kid sugar, they’re going to have ADHD. Stop the madness. Seek real truth. Cut through the hype. Look for the evidence. Think.