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The internet was an invaluable resource to our family when we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a medical crisis. The best information helped clarify the finer points of diagnostic codes and treatment plans, which in turned helped us ask our doctors better questions.

Of course, there was some bad information out there too–and a lot of bad information, once my daughter was discharged from the hospital. When I say “bad,” I don’t necessarily mean “deliberately malfeasant” (because I’m assuming many blogs are published in good faith), but rather “bad” as in “ideologically myopic and totally self-serving.”

I was reminded of how rotten bad information can be while I was researching RSV for my previous post. So, now that my daughter is back in school, I wanted to briefly write about ideology. Or more specifically, three common phrases which are frequently used by people who distort information to fit into a narrow worldview:

3. “Big Medicine”

Big Medicine, Big Pharma, Big Government, Big Agra, Big Whatever–it’s lazy and it’s scapegoating. More than anything, I feel sorry for people who use “Big Whatever” like it’s an actual thing, because it feels like they are so intimidated by a particular industry or sector that they turn it into Mr. Yuck.* Mr. Yuck has an agenda. Mr. Yuck is out to get you. Be afraid! Rather than discussing particular misdeeds or loopholes or issues, “Big Whatever” as a rhetorical device is only convincing to people who already agree with you.

2. “Line their pockets.”

Yeah, here’s the thing: everyone’s getting paid because everyone is a participant in an economy in which goods and services are monetized. And that’s not to say there aren’t crazy-insano-abuses in the pharmaceutical industry–there are, as noted by Bloomberg news in 2013 regarding generic drug pricing.

This phrase, however, is often used to call into question the motives of physicians for recommending a specific drug or treatment plan. But unless supported by facts–by proof of kickbacks, the amount of bonuses, etc–this is a pretty weak, generalized argument to make because you can easily make it about any person in any profession in our country.

What’s more, you can always get a second opinion, and many insurance companies will partially cover this consultation.

  1. “Do your research!”

I think if I had dared close out a research paper in high school with “do your research!” my English teacher would have shat a brick…and would have immediately dropped my letter grade to a C. In college I would have received a D, and in grad school, I would have probably received a hand-written note at the bottom of the page: “this is a professional embarrassment.”**

Why? Because “do your research!” is a weak line to end on–on the one hand, it suggests there is a substantive body of work to support a particular thesis, but on the other hand, it discourages dissent by signaling the author might not be an actual authority on the subject (“move along, folks!”)

Quite frankly, I’m baffled by how often “do your research!” is used by the quacks and phonies, but I suppose as a rhetorical device, it is like the altar call of people with an ideological agenda: it separates the believers from the non-believers, and the believers will then be able to pat themselves on the back for being so open-minded.

“Do your research!” is a wonderful missive–because, yeah, everyone should do their research, everyone should be curious–but when “do your research!” is used in such a way that it is devoid of any actual meaning, as if it were a proof which proves itself by being a proof, then “do your research!” should be a major red flag that what you are reading is complete and total garbage.

The worst thing about posts and discussions which disseminate bad information is that they are big-fat time wasters. When there are decisions to be made, time is of the essence, and you don’t want to spend it reading about some quack’s beef with Mr. Yuck.

That said, if you’re not sure about what you are reading, talk to your doctor. And if you want a second opinion, talk to another doctor. Because as invaluable as the internet is, your best partner will always be your healthcare provider.

* He kidnapped children and sold them into slavery. He murdered their parents while they slept. He was caught and sentenced to death, but broke out of prison and killed over a hundred people with his bare hands. He was bald with big muscles and lots of tattoos. He had knives hidden in pockets under his skin. He was Mr. Yuck, and he was lasted spotted IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD!!!!!

He was also the imaginative creation of a playmate’s mother, who in her own way was trying to personify stranger danger. My friends and I were thrilled to the bone whenever she’d hold up a newspaper and say, “Mr. Yuck killed a little girl last night, you girls need to be careful today!” In my mind’s eye, he looked like a cross between Mr. Clean, Popeye, and The Shredder.

** Okay, so I actually received this note on one of my papers, but it was for having too many typos. Personally, I still think the critique was a bit overblown, since a first year’s thematic discussion of A Woman in White would never be publishable anyway.

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