The Arrogance of Igorance - how people can be so sure despite scientific evidence

  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Jan 14, 2008 5:19 PM GMT
    I was watching Scrubs a while back and there was one little bit in there that summarized this notion quite well in terms of the medical proffession. I do not remember it exactly, but it was the middle-aged grumpy guy (whatever his name is) and the young hip main character guy (whatever his name is) talking about patient attitudes towards doctors. It went something like 'Doctors used to be trusted and respected, now every person who has read a website or seen a 90 second news clip thinks they are more informed about medicine than we are'.

    The phrase arrogance of ignorance has been emerging in several science blogs lately and it is a good phrase for summing up this phenomenon that we find when science meets (or fails to meet) the public.

    A good example of this is the conspiracy theory which claims that child vaccines cause autism. This is often a topic on the news, radio shows, on Oprah, and other media, and is propagated by a very small but very active and vocal group of people.

    As an aside, this is also a good example of a cultural meme that is extremely dangerous, and not just because of occational crazy news reports like the following (in which a mother killed hwe three year old out of guilt of letting her child get vaccinated, which she believes caused the autism):

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/01/the_real_evidence_of_harm.php

    The far greater danger lies in vaccination compliance rates. Vaccinations are arguably the single most beneficial mecial advance ever, saving more lives than any other preventative measure or treatment (except for perhaps basic things like sanitation, sewage and garbage disposal, soap, etc).

    But anyhow, back to the topic. This supposed link has been investigated over and over and over. The level of study gone into refuting this link is far beyond the already very-high safety standards in place and the unnecesary cost of investigating this link far beyond any reasonable probability of it existing has been entirely due to this cultural movement that is scaring parents. Despite the multitude of nails that have gone into the coffin of this claim, the people who promote it just keep churning out the same my-mommy-instinct-knows-more-than-your-science attitute.

    Quite often the more wrong people are, the more absolutly certain they are of their false convictions.

    Here is a good science blog talking about this briefly:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/01/another_example_of_the_arrogance_of_igno.php
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Jan 14, 2008 5:29 PM GMT
    This is something i posted on another forum and just copied and pasted, but i thought it would be relevant to a lot of the discussion that happens on these forums as well.

    A few times we have had topics dealing with science, such as evolution, climatology, and so on. We even have a forum specifically for "alternative medicine", the contents of which are often completely disconnected from reality.

    And in a more general sense, health, nutrition and fitness are all areas very prone to and often filled with nonsense: fad diets, miracle weight loss cures, claims of various products and supplements, etc. In other words, these are all areas with a large number of people who are absolutly sure of what they say they know in the absense of scientific evidence, or blatantly against proven scientific knowledge. In short, fitness, nutrition, and health are prone to the phenomenon of arrogance of ignorance.
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    Jan 14, 2008 5:36 PM GMT
    The "arrogance of ignorance" doesn't just apply to science.

    Read some of the posts on here about history and politics. Listen to what people say about the various political candidates.

    One of the most annoying things about people saying that Obama is somehow going to cure the poisonous atmosphere of politics is their complete lack of knowledge about how things came to be this way. In fact, the whole "culture war", or at least this phase of it, can be traced directly back to the 1968 presidential race, where Republicans decided that pursuing George Wallace's voters via the now-famous "Southern Strategy" would win them the White House.

    It did, barely, but it set the stage for the divisiveness that has plagued our country for 40 years. Once they got in bed with the Southern racists, the GOP had to adopt their whole agenda, at the risk of losing their votes. So, abortion, which had never been an issue, and hating gays, and Biblical literalism, and wearing one's faith on the sleeve, and all these other things. This is why the GOP "establishment" has never really signed on to the agenda (which is why Huckabee is popular right now)--because the agenda of the Southern religionists was never integral to the Republican establishment, but they were (and many still are) "useful idiots".
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Jan 14, 2008 5:41 PM GMT
    You are right, it isnt just about science, but other fields as well. However when it comes to History, Politics, Economics, and to a much greater extent Literature, there is far more room for opinion.

    Nonetheless some things can be blatantly and entirely wrong regardless of the topic, and people can believe it despite all the contrary evidence. Holocaust denial is a good historical example.
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    Jan 14, 2008 5:49 PM GMT
    From my limited experience as a cancer patient for the past year or so, I say that you have to watch your doctors like a hawk! Doctors can get on a roll with treating patients til it becomes like an assembly line.

    You need to know everything you can about your condition. And you need to discuss any questions you may have with your doctor. If you dont like what he is recommending, get a second opinion. Or take in your information source and get him to explain away your concern.

    For example, the first treatment given me for my cancer didn't work. I told the doctor it wasnt working. He didnt believe me because neither he nor any of his colleagues had the treatment not work before. Finally, I demanded a blood test. Haha! Guess what? It wasnt working! Because of the two month delay in getting effective treatment, I had to have my treatment extended from 6 months to a full year. That extended treatment resulted in deep, deep depression side effects.

    Finally,after consulting with my doctor, I made the decision to end my treatment because I couldn't take it anymore. But I didnt end taking care of myself, even tho the clinic and insurance had nothing more to offer me.

    I have joined a gym, hired a personal trainer, reformed my nutrition, all in order to repair the damage done to my body from the cancer treatment.

    I would rather have my arrogance of ignorance challenge the doctor's hubris of pride any day. I say research, research, research, question, question, question, and understand! Fuck the doctors in their white coats. You're the one that is gonna die if they screw up. You have to be actively responsible for your care, not a passive worshiper of the doctor.

    Arrogance of Ignorance, my laughing ass. I would rather be ignorant and active, than passive and dead!

    And now, I have the pleasure of knowing that I changed my cancer clinic's procedure for treating patients. Prior to my throwing a hissy fit...as only a gay can and would...the cancer clinic was an assembly line focused only on treating cancer. ...What? the treatment is having side effects? You are overwhelmed with depression from the medication and can't stop crying? You should see a psychiatrist.

    B*llsh*t! I told the doctor that he was the one shooting me up, he was responsible. If he wanted to have me see anyone for side effects, fine. Just tell me who to go to.

    The doctor told me that he wanted to fire me as a patient. But I think he was "seeing" lawsuit if he tried it.

    There was a coincidental event that I am sure bolstered my position with the doctor and the clinic. The head of the John Hopkins Cancer Center died just about that time and I was able to take in his obituary to the doctor. In the obituary, he was quoted as saying that you cant treat cancer without treating the psychological and social aspects of the disease, too.

    Now my cancer clinic assigns a Care Coordinator to each patient....precisely what I told the doc they needed to do. The Care Coordinator looks after related treatment you may need due to side effects.




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    Jan 14, 2008 5:54 PM GMT
    Caslon,

    I applaud you for your vigilance, but I don't think Delivis meant "never challenge your doctors", I think he meant that there is a lot of dishonest or misinformed crap online (as I'm sure you've found) and it is stupid to take it all as gospel.
  • fitnfunmich

    Posts: 181

    Jan 14, 2008 5:59 PM GMT
    Caslon: for every horror story about uncaring doctors I can share hundreds if not thousands about patients being healed and treated respectfully.

    But don't take my word for it. Look around you. Modern medicine is by no means flawless, but has been responsible for wiping many diseases/plagues off the planet, curing many illnesses, and prolonging human life by decades. And I supect we are only just getting started.

    I think it's good to be skeptical, however, as any good scientist knows, and there is nothing wrong with wanting more info and taking an active part in your health. Just be careful not to label all doctors as bad until proven otherwise. That is the same type of stereotype that gays deal with too you know.
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    Jan 14, 2008 6:17 PM GMT
    I didnt call my doctor bad. He is one of the best and highly respected. But it is more than ignorant, it is stupid not to be actively and critically engaged in your treatment.

    The only arrogance of ignorance I see is the arrogance of people who have not been thru it giving advice.

    Patient, know thyself. Research, research, research, question, question, question, and understand!
  • fitnfunmich

    Posts: 181

    Jan 14, 2008 6:24 PM GMT
    Agreed. The larger issue though as Delivis mentioned, is that many people will actively choose to discount science in favor of hysteria (as in the mentioned case re: autism and immunizations.)

    Many of those paranoid parents really ARE actively involved in the health of their children, but choose to take the advice of random internet bloggers over their doctors.

    Of course this is nothing new. Human history is overflowing with countless examples as far back as it is recorded. Galileo and Copernicus risked death for stating their scientific observations that the Earth was round, and was not in fact at the center of the universe.

    More recently, women were so convinced that silicone implants were causing auto-immune disease that they would take razor blades to their chests and manually remove them. All this despite proof that the implants were harmless.

    I think it's the same type of mentality that can allow an otherwise sane individual to partake in a group mob or lynching or looting.
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    Jan 14, 2008 6:48 PM GMT
    GURR.

    Don't get me started.

    Ignorant folks don't know they're ignorant, and there's no reasoning with them.
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    Jan 14, 2008 6:53 PM GMT
    Quite often I believe the loudness of one's (e-)voice in an argument is inversely proportional to that person's actual knowledge of the topic at hand.
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    Jan 14, 2008 7:09 PM GMT
    Well, if the drs cant explain away the question of possible connection of immunization and autism, then the parents should research it, discuss their research and concerns with the dr, and make their decision.

    Sometimes the most ignorant person is the one who thinks he knows it all.
  • fitnfunmich

    Posts: 181

    Jan 14, 2008 7:15 PM GMT
    Well certainly no one knows everything, and when the possibility of the autism/thimerisol (mercury-based preservative in some immunizations) was recognized then scientists and medical researchers took it seriously and did two things:

    First they removed the thimerisol just in case, and next they did scientific studies to see if there was anything to it. Turns out, there isn't. In fact the recently found a genetic abnormality that might explain autism in a small percentage of a cases (this implies that autism is likely something that happens during very early phases of development--in other words it's innate and not acquired.)

    I guess the thing that bothers Delivis and many others is that sometimes the facts don't seem to matter. Some people choose to deny the truth and trust their suspicions instead.

    Caslon: I can't imagine what it must be like going through cancer treatments, and I applaud you for every effort at getting better, and wish you a great year full of recovery and peace.
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    Jan 14, 2008 7:29 PM GMT
    RuggerATX saidQuite often I believe the loudness of one's (e-)voice in an argument is inversely proportional to that person's actual knowledge of the topic at hand.

    Quote of the day award!

    I actually believe that this 'arrogance of ignorance' phenomenon is a by-product of, and a necessary price we pay for, the privelege of open and unregulated expression on the net. It's not like the old days when you could pretty much bank on Walter Cronkite's fact-checking accuracy. Caveat emptor applies to blogs and forums, dontcha know.

    Having said that, I've been burned by a few of these medical conspiracy theories. In the end, I've learned to retain a healthy skepticism for both the medical establishment and myriad alternatives being propagated, these days.
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    Jan 14, 2008 7:30 PM GMT
    I agree whole heartedly with Caslon. And I will add that drs have the conflicting interests of trying to see as many people as they can. They are not necessarily scientists, but are rather practitioners of scientific knowledge. As practitioners, they can fall into dogmas that will lead them astray. And many times these dogmas are instituted by pharmaceutical companies...

    So doctors know what they are doing, but it is up to patients to try and learn as much as possible. Thankfully the "better living through Chemistry" ideal has fallen by the wayside.
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    Jan 14, 2008 8:19 PM GMT
    and some drs only know what they have been "rep-ed" on by Big Pharma.

    But, understand, I went in to the clinic totally trusting in the doctor. He spoke and I obeyed. Only after participating in the process did I learn that that is a big mistake.
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    Jan 14, 2008 8:40 PM GMT
    ruck_us saidHaving said that, I've been burned by a few of these medical conspiracy theories. In the end, I've learned to retain a healthy skepticism for both the medical establishment and myriad alternatives being propagated, these days.


    There are three major sides to the field. The patient, doctor and big pharma.

    Emotionally I side with the patient, they are after all the one that suffers with the end result. The doctor has a lot of knowledge but doesn't know everything and is often unprepared to speak about current breakthroughs and will want to refer you. Big pharma has shown repeatedly that greed is their bottom line. Cure is not in their best interest, treatment is. Further, they have been slapped repeatedly in various forms for hiding negative test results and serious side effects.

    Caslon saidand some drs only know what they have been "rep-ed" on by Big Pharma.

    But, understand, I went in to the clinic totally trusting in the doctor. He spoke and I obeyed. Only after participating in the process did I learn that that is a big mistake.


    Having worked in the field, the BP rep is often just a salesperson who is skilled in diverting any questions that would yeild a failed "sale". They wine and dine doctors to get them to front their new pill on patients and they often "forget" to tell a doctor about all of the ramifications.

    There's a lot of money poured into selling doctors like this.
  • DiverScience

    Posts: 1426

    Jan 14, 2008 8:58 PM GMT
    Misinformation is ridiculously hard to combat.

    Look at the number of people, even some who post here, who think that spot reduction is possible!

    I just wish more doctors were more informed about the science behind what they do, and more willing to talk about it. I have no problem doing what you tell me, if you give me the reasons for it.