Spreading the Word

Lest some of our readers imagine that the authors of this blog are mere armchair opinion-spouters and keyboard-tappers for one little blog, I’d like to point out some of the other things we do to spread the word about science and reason. Steven Novella’s new course about medical myths for “The Great Courses” of The Teaching Company is a prime example: more about that later.

First, some examples of the kinds of things we have been doing:

  • Personal blogs.
  • Podcasts, both as hosts and as interviewees.
  • Magazine articles and columns.
  • Teaching doctors and laymen in medical schools, hospitals, and workshops.
  • Radio show interviews.
  • Public speaking: informal talks to local groups and formal presentations at regional conferences, national conferences, even international conferences.
  • Guest columns and letters to the editor in newspapers.
  • Interviews by journalists who quote us in the media.
  • Founding fellows and board members of the new Institute for Science in Medicine.
  • Invited to write commentary to accompany published articles in major journals.
  • Peer reviewing journal articles prior to acceptance for publication.
  • Special Science-Based Medicine conference, workshops and panels at the annual Amaz!ng Meetings of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) (more to come at TAM 9  July 14-17, 2011 in Las Vegas).
  • Participation in online forums and discussion lists.
  • Books: articles included in anthologies and even used as a chapter in a book.
  • Links, reprints and translations of our articles have spread around the world (one of mine was even translated into Turkish!).
  • Working with lawyers as medical experts on lawsuits about bogus health products and false claims.
  • Co-authoring a new edition of a textbook.
  • Advising organizations that deal with health information.
  • Answering personal inquiries.
  • Haranguing our friends and families.

I have done almost everything on this list myself (the only exceptions are that I don’t have a personal blog or host a podcast, although I have appeared on several). My colleagues have done a lot more that I haven’t heard about: if all their accomplishments were included, the list would undoubtedly be much longer. I am retired and at leisure; but my colleagues manage to practice medicine, do research, teach, constantly scour the Internet and the medical literature, raise young children, and still get so much else done that I find it hard to believe they ever sleep (particularly supermen Steven Novella and David Gorski). And contrary to the imaginative accusations of some of our detractors, none of us are in this for profit: most of our efforts to spread the word about science-based medicine are pro bono, without any pay. When we do get paid, it’s usually a pittance, often in the form of a small honorarium or reimbursement of travel expenses for a talk. If a Big Pharma teat exists, we certainly haven’t managed to latch onto it.

Steven Novella is our founding editor and has arguably done more to support science and reason than any of us. His latest triumph is one of the “Great Courses” for The Teaching Company entitled “Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us.” It consists of 24 half-hour lectures that cover:

  1. Medical Knowledge versus Misinformation
  2. Myths about Water and Hydration
  3. Vitamin and Nutrition Myths
  4. Dieting—Separating Myths from Facts
  5. The  Fallacy That Natural Is Always Better
  6. Probiotics and Our Bacterial Friends
  7. Sugar and Hyperactivity
  8. Antioxidants—Hype versus Reality
  9. The Common Cold
  10. Vaccination Benefits—How Well Vaccines Work
  11. Vaccination Risks—Real and Imagined
  12. Antibiotics, Germs, and Hygiene
  13. Vague Symptoms and Fuzzy Diagnoses
  14. Herbalism and Herbal Medicines
  15. Homeopathy—One Giant Myth
  16. Facts about Toxins and Myths about Detox
  17. Myths about Acupuncture’s Past and Benefits
  18. Myths about Magnets, Microwaves,  Cell Phones
  19. All about Hypnosis
  20. Myths about Coma and Consciousness
  21. What Placebos Can and Cannot Do
  22. Myths about Pregnancy
  23. Medical Myths from around the World
  24. Roundup—Decluttering Our Mental Closet.

The concept and presentation are pure genius. The “myth” format will attract people who might not want to listen to something labeled “Science-based Medicine” or “Alternative Medicine.” He manages to cover almost all the topics we discuss on this blog, and he does it in a way that is palatable, easy to understand, and non-offensive. He is not dogmatic about anything: he points out areas of uncertainty and even tells students not to treat him as a definitive authority, but to think for themselves. He comes across as serious, professorial, fair, balanced, calm, cool, collected, organized, thoughtful, and very credible.

The course is available at a sale price of $69.95 on DVD, $49.95 on audio CD, or $34.95 for audio download. It comes with a booklet that provides a 2 to 4 page summary of the information in each lecture, each with suggested reading and questions to consider; and a glossary and bibliography. The introduction includes a whole paragraph about the Science-Based Medicine blog, and he cites several SBM articles in the bibliography section.

Dr. Novella deserves a lot of credit for creating this course. It is a worthwhile source of medical information and teaches critical thinking about science. It will reach a lot of people that we wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. Thank you, Steven!

We may not be as sexy or popular as the purveyors of medical misinformation, but I think we are making a dent. At least we are getting reliable information about SBM out there where people can find it.  And I know our readers and commenters have done a thing or two themselves to help spread the word. I’d like to hear more about their activities and their accomplishments.

Sometimes standing up for science-based medicine can feel like a losing battle. Achievements like Dr. Novella’s course make me pause from weeping about our bêtes noires and break out a smile. Quality efforts like his do much to spread the word. They encourage my optimism that science will prevail in the long run. We may have to keep running constantly just to stay in one place, but it’s well worth the effort. The consequences of letting pseudoscience and woo-woo overtake us are unthinkable.

This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine Blog

Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

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