A medical skeptic has stepped forward to warn us! Not only about bloated marketing claims, but also about misleading & inaccurate statements by our respected medical establishment. Read on, and you will be prepared with a large dose of skepticism.
Most of my blogs come about when I encounter an original research article that seems significant, useful or surprising. However, once in a while I encounter a review article, usually by a science journalist, that is so readable and informative that I think it’s worth calling to your attention. (Previous examples involved wine tasting, wired romance, self-driving cars and diabetes.
This week brings one more article that, while not original research, impresses me with its insight and thoughtfulness. The article is Skepticism That Cuts Both Ways by medical journalist Michael Jorrin, writing as “Doc Gumshoe.”
Jorrin often debunks the widely-advertised but fraudulent “miracle cures” that tend to be classified as “alternative medicine.” However, in this article he plays the role of medical skeptic in taking on the traditional medical establishment.
Jorrin warns us to take all expert medical pronouncements with a shakerful of salt. He groups his comments under five “principles” that he uses for a measuring stick in his role as medical skeptic.
The Medical Skeptic’s Five “Principles”
– I am skeptical about statements that include possibly dubious numerical assertions.
Many of us automatically assign more credibility to statements that include numbers. Is it really true that “every puff on a cigarette will shorten a smoker’s life by exactly eight minutes?” As Jorrin says,
[The] question, “How do they know?” relates to almost every assertion that is made in science and medicine.
– I question free-floating assertions of percentages.
The medical skeptic gives as an example the data used to criticize hormone replacement for women. A 23% of increased heart attack risk actually amounted to 7 cases per 10,000 women. When the media focused on the percentage without giving its context, they caused a disproportionate level of alarm.
– I am fundamentally skeptical about the accuracy of many of the measurements on which medical science is based.
One of the examples given is the use of digital meters to measure blood pressure. They give an illusion of accuracy that is misleading. “Figures lie, and liars figure.”
– I tend to be skeptical about “guidelines-based” treatment.
Jorrin points out that sometimes the guidelines established by medical associations go beyond what has actually been proven by research studies. For example, he believes that some of the guidelines for prescribing statins to treat high cholesterol should not be blindly applied without considering the patient’s individual situation.
– I am deeply skeptical of pronouncements that certain conditions, or certain classes of patients, don’t need to be treated.
The medical skeptic uses “stage 0 breast cancer” as an example of a medical condition where the research base is very weak. The research does not justify some of the conclusions that have been extrapolated from it.
The Medical Skeptic Bottom Line
As you read the above, you probably noticed that Jorrin’s “principles” are a good caution not just for medical claims, but for all scientific claims. If there is any reason to suspect the motivation of the speaker or his potential conflict of interest, that’s a good time to light up the caveat emptor neon sign above your reading chair!
Has your “medical skeptic” response been activated by a medical claim that later turned out to be misleading or just plain wrong?
Drawing Credit: metalmarious, on openclipart.org