When I was a child, my parents would force me to get outside the house almost every day. I questioned their motives, as messing around on my PlayStation or watching TV seemed like a much better option, but their insistence combined with their authority got me out the door each day. Authority is quite a powerful force to wield. With authority, one person can get millions to obey their commands, or two parents can get one child to forego an afternoon of laziness.
In addition to your parents, one of the figures who commands a great deal of authority is your family physician. As a child, the authority of a physician is unquestionable; partly because, as a young child, you may be frightened of a visit to the doctor’s office, but a great deal of authority comes from the knowledge and experience possessed by a physician. The notion that knowledge and experience commands authority can be applied to numerous other professions held in high authoritative esteem, such as professors, lawyers, or bankers. These individuals have authority because they are experts in their respective field of study, and have the educational training and experience necessary to command respect and authority.
Before the advent of the Internet, knowledge was a powerful commodity that was possessed by relatively few people. Only those that decided to pursue careers based around absorbing and producing knowledge had access to this rare commodity. Today, almost everyone has access to a wealth of information with the touch of a button. Unfortunately, this increase in the availability of knowledge has also lead to a dilution in authority and expertise.
Our daily media feed is awash with authority figures who lack knowledge and a critical understanding of the issues that they advocate for or speak out against. Human health is one of the most contentious issues today due to the dilution of knowledge being produced on the subject. Our physical health is an area of great concern for many people, but due to authority figures constantly bombarding our lives with mixed messages about what is truly beneficial for our health, the knowledge of human health has not only been diluted, but polluted.
Most authority figures who advocate for human health are, ironically, not physicians. Some may possess the letters “Dr.” in front of their name, but that does not lend them credibility nor authority on the matter. Even specialist physicians are not adequately qualified nor informed enough to comment on certain health issues. For example, if you were having issues with your cardiovascular system like high cholesterol or angina, you wouldn’t seek the advice of your dermatologist. They could offer you some basic advice due to the fact that they do possess a working knowledge of the human body, but they likely wouldn’t feel comfortable in their skin doing so.
Which begs the question of why so many human health authority figures exist today. Why aren’t there any gastrointestinologists promoting detox routines? Why don’t dentists promote oil-pulling? Why aren’t neurologists or radiologists speaking out against the dangers of cell phones, wifi in schools, or microwaving your food? If all of this “knowledge” and “research” exists on these topics and countless more, why aren’t they regularly being promoted by the individuals with over a decade of educational training on the subject, but are being promoted by individuals with access to the internet, hands, and a flashy website?
I’ve discussed in a previous article why pseudoscience promoters practice what they do, and a great portion of it is a combination of a prophetic desire and a dissatisfaction with their career earning potential. One of the major reasons why you will almost never see a physician promoting bad science and poor health advice is because they’re generating a satisfactory income, and their authority with patients is enough to satisfy the prophetic component. Unfortunately, thanks to the dilution of knowledge in the past decade, even the expertise and authority of physicians is being questioned by their patients thanks to external influence or misguided individual research.
The notion that one can employ the Internet to replace the knowledge of education of their physician is ludicrous if you consider the intense educational process physicians undergo to become licensed health professionals. Our ability to access such vast amounts of information has ironically made us incredibly ignorant and arrogant when it comes to our health. Simply put, WebMd, some random quack’s blog, or even reading one scientific paper on a subject is not a valid substitute for the advice of a trained physician, dentist, pharmacist, or optometrist. Anecdotal evidence is not a valid substitute for peer-reviewed science.
One of the main problems is that doing “research” online is very narrow in scope; you fail to see the whole picture that an education from a professional school gives you. For example, one of the common knocks against vaccines is that they contain a “dangerous cocktail of chemicals and toxins”. First of all, water is a chemical by definition, but the word chemical carries a very negative connotation. Same goes for toxin: any expert in toxicology will tell you that the dose makes the poison. One of the chemicals commonly found in vaccines is formaldehyde, which most of you will recognize from funeral homes as the preservative used during embalming.
Formaldehyde is indeed a powerful preservative, and toxic to humans in large doses, but recall that the dose makes the poison. In fact, formaldehyde is present in humans all the time! There is a higher concentration of naturally occurring formaldehyde present in your bloodstream than there is in any vaccine dose. Why? Formaldehyde is a metabolic intermediary formed during the breakdown of methanol and other products in the bloodstream. Even that formaldehyde present in a vaccine you’re receiving will be broken down without any hesitation from your body; the chemical was only needed to preserve the vaccine to make it safe for transport and storage.
However, when your average internet health authority hears formaldehyde, they follow a very narrow-minded process. First, they Google “formaldehyde”. They see words like “chemical” or “toxin” and get scared. Then they see facts like “toxic to humans in large doses”. Using this narrow-minded way of thinking, they fail to see the big picture (formaldehyde is naturally occurring, what a “toxic” dose amount actually is) and proceed to use their authority to instill fear to their followers about something they simply lack the education and training to properly understand. Unfortunately, due to a fear of large institutions that many individuals today possess, whether it’s large corporations, big pharma, or even hospitals, this way of thinking is catching on.
What’s troubling is that the “research” and knowledge that these individuals are passing on isn’t even novel; it’s widely available on the internet and essentially just recycled content. Anyone with access to the internet and a basic scientific vocabulary can do what many pseudoscience-based health advocates do: present a narrow-minded, fear-inducing view of our current societal state of physical health. The only difference is that these individuals often hide behind the guise of academic pseudoauthority; essentially, using the letters before or after their name is a sort of authoritarian currency. What’s most upsetting is that these individuals prey on the ignorant and sell false promises and lies to their clients. They promise miracle weight-loss methods, cancer-free lifestyles, and overall “wellness”.
If there is a common theme found among pseudoscientific practitioners, an oversimplification of incredibly complex health problems is certainly near the top of the list. Quality health and disease prevention are not 1 step solutions. There is no magic pill. You cannot cure nor prevent cancer simply ingesting more cumin. An extract of a plant will not make you lose weight. Detox routines and kits are a scam and a marketing ploy. The human body and the diseases that afflict it are so complex that even today, entire legions of specialists still routinely make mistakes and learn from them. Environmental, nutritional, biological, and genetic factors all come into play when determining the prevention, cause, and cure for disease and overall health quality.
With knowledge so accessible and important in today’s world, no one wants to appear stupid, because that implies helplessness and vulnerability. However, we have to understand that there are limitations to the knowledge available to the public, and the education and training reserved for those capable of applying it. Educating yourself is still a very valuable tool, but an abundance of knowledge should not breed close-mindedness; quite the opposite, in fact. Know what basic lifestyle choices you can make to live a healthy lifestyle, but don’t start conflating letters in front of someone’s name to automatically award them with medical authority. There’s a reason why not everyone is capable of becoming a doctor, or dentist, or whatever. And that’s fine – but trust in the empirical-based system of knowledge these individuals have been trained under. You wouldn’t go to a plumber with your electrical questions, so don’t go to a chiropractor for advice on cancer prevention.