How Do You Identify “Fake News” in Medicine

Well, that’s a great question.

One of the greatest problems I’ve had in writing this blog is that I sometimes get overwhelmed by the various topics that come to my attention on a nearly daily basis.

I’m also a little lazy, to be fair.

What I find most frustrating is that, like the “fake news” that’s all the rage right now, it often seems to me that countering a made up scientific fact is occasionally the most difficult to refute.

Let me give you an example.

A good friend of mine and his wife attended a talk on healthy living. The woman speaking had an enormous string of letters after her name, indicating that she was an expert on everything. (The subject of yet another blog post at some point.)

The way she ended her talk was by giving out this helpful tidbit:

“If you do nothing else, get rid of your microwave, because the radiation it uses to heat up your food, stays in the food and goes into your body!”

Now, I was very grateful to not have attended this talk, since I probably would have become apoplectic and strangled her in front of a live studio audience.

And I’m uncertain if I’d still be able to blog from prison.

So, I tried to explain to my friends, who are both intelligent, why this was utter bullshit.

I explained that as a chemistry major in college, I actually specialized in the branch known as “physical chemistry”. This meant I studied how various tools using infra-red, nuclear magnetic resonance, etc., could be used to identify chemical compounds.

I learned that microwaves work by stimulating the water molecules in our food, causing them to vibrate faster and that’s what heats up your Hot Pocket.

One could say that the energy is absorbed, but it is then dissipated as heat, which is why you tend to burn your mouth on said Hot Pockets.

There is no radiation left in the food, since whatever wasn’t absorbed, had simply passed through. It’s kind of like what I did for a living, radiating cancers inside of people, yet, I did not leave them radioactive. (Or “glowing in the dark”, as all the really hilarious spouses always used to say.)

After I went through my explanation, I could see that their eyes were just a tad glazed over. They would take my word for it, because A) They were my friends and B) They didn’t want to eat cold Hot Pockets.

But, I was pretty sure that the concept of energy absorption by molecular bonds, was not something they readily grasped. Nor do most of you, and I can sense your eyes glazing over as well.

So this is always my dilemma.

The people that spew this crap do so in a very simple, easy to understand way that seems to make sense. Proving it false tends to be quite a bit harder, and often sounds more made up than the fake stuff.

In dealing with cancer quacks over the years, that’s what I always found so painfully unfair. They could say whatever they wanted, however they wanted, and showing how their logic was faulty was often a much more difficult job.

Not to mention the fact that people really WANT to believe them. To be honest, there were times I wish what they said was true as well.

Who wouldn’t want to treat cancer in an easy, effective and side effect free way?

There is no easy answer on how to address this problem. I can beg for better science teaching in our schools, but, unfortunately, some of the science teachers themselves don’t understand the very topics they teach.

Compounding this is the constant deluge of news in the media talking about one thing and then contradicting it the next week.

I guess that’s why I chose “Stay Skeptical” as my tag line. It really is the best way to approach a lot of what you hear. If it intrigues you, research it. Ask your doctor friends, or your doctor, or go to a legitimate website, like the American Cancer Society, or the NCI.

I will continue to hit the popular controversies, like artificial sugar, as I go along, but it would take several lifetimes to cover them all.

So, for now, remember to always Stay Skeptical!

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Filed under: Health Care

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