Recent studies show .. we need to read more

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

I bought this book during my Masters. It was recommended during my course since I was in a BioHealth Informatics programme. Now two years after I finished school, I have read it. I had preconceptions it may be a difficult read and I would need to research every chapter in order to be able to understand it. I was wrong since the book is intended for a wide range audience and it is quite easy to follow.

It picked specific cases from various medical and health areas and dissected studies and the information presented to the public. It asked questions, questions that should be answered by all involved, from pharmaceutical companies to homeopathy. I strongly feel that transparency should be reinforced strongly in any field that has to do with our health. There is absolutely no reason why study methods, results and other related information should be half reported or hidden. If any health consultant, medic or any other professional gives advice and uses the phrase “recent studies show” then all their findings and methods should be made public.

During my course and also as a result of my current work experience, I see there is a great need for interdisciplinary communication. I noticed that health professionals tend to be possessive of their practice and use the errors of other fields as a reinforcement of their own practice. Nevertheless, I feel it is time to communicate efficiently, iteratively define guidelines based on practice and keep all egos and profits aside. It is a sad situation to let a person in search of answers agonize over who to believe and being made feel bad if they choose one over the other. Most of the people when they start looking for answers they are in need for it, so being bombarded with half done studies, ten different conflicting reports and many other things, is very confusing and unproductive.

This is one area I thought about while reading the book. The second, is the role of media and its ability to sway people’s opinions. There were times when I felt disappointed and worried about the increasing number of half-truths or just plain lies published. But I am making an effort not to dwell on this aspect too much and instead bringing it back to me and what can I do. It is intimidating to admit you don’t know something so it is easy to go to sources that package information in a mass-produced manner. We live during an unprecedented time when we have access to information. Reading, writing and information storage are no longer restricted to only a few selected groups of people. We now have so many means of information that it is difficult to keep up. This gives us incredible power of analysis and inquiry. We need to take ownership of that and demand to be presented information in an intelligent manner. The case studies in the book looked at stories from the media where the information can be traced back to half-truths and massaged statistics. I know we lead busy lives and we need everything faster, quicker and simpler but letting ourselves be lied to is not the way. We need to ask intelligent questions to all the people who can influence our health decisions. I am not saying everyone become a doctor or spend 3 months reading biochemistry book but we need to be curious, read and expand our horizons. Overall the book helped my confidence with my ability to read a study, understand it’s methods regardless of the topic.

It is a bit odd for me to write now about how we need to read more, to expand our knowledge base and our spirits in order to sift information carefully since it’s been a weird month with riots, the post analysis of the riots, the backlash from the courts and the overcrowding of jails. But oh well we have to keep encouraging ourselves regardless of the slips we may have on the way.

Keep curious !

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