Seth Sentry has a problem with science. It has, thus far, failed to provide him with a hoverboard. However, his gripes are pretty minimal when it comes to the barrage of blame that science, medicine and other reputable branches of investigation get from the Instafamous, celebrity chefs and so-called wellness warriors. With all the bad mouthing of vaccines, milk and sunscreen, science must be feeling pretty dejected. In fact, science is being bullied and it's time that we stuck up for it.
Last week, a favourite topic of wellness warrior-types, that bike helmets are a draconian way of the man to get us down, has been pretty much knocked on the head. Some well-known health gurus have been known to be very public about their opposition to wearing helmets, saying that they don't protect your noggin in a crash. Now, there has been loads of research into bike helmet wearing prior to this, but this study is enormous and clearly states that wearing a bike helmet dramatically reduces your risk of a serious head injury.
So since science is under attack for causing autism, keeping the people down, general mass poisoning of people under the guise of 'medicine', or just general ignorance when clearly a celebrity chef knows better, how do we pick out the good advice from the bad advice?
1. 'It's a fact'
You will virtually never here someone who actually knows what they're talking about use these kinds of words for the simple fact that scientific understanding changes all the time. Every day, we learn more and more about things we already knew and sometimes that new information changes things a little and sometimes it changes things a lot.
Think of the discovery of DNA, the realisation that AIDS is caused by HIV or, more recently, the plethora of genes that are responsible for disease. Since scientists in all fields know that things can change, we are pretty unlikely to say that something is a cold hard fact.
2. Conspiracy theorists
Especially when such theories are espoused by the rich and famous, such that we are being poisoned by sunscreens, or milk, this should definitely ring alarm bells. Probably the greatest example of this is the persisting belief in the now defunct article that introduced the completely false notion that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Now don't get me wrong, it's important that curiosity by the general population or those in the know pushes forward knowledge and understanding. But when grand conspiracies are creeping their way into our SPF, such 'information' has got to be taken with a grain of salt.
3. Practicing outside your scope of practice
As a heart surgeon, I have something called a scope of practice. That means I can do heart and lung surgery but I can't just start delivering babies tomorrow because I fancy myself a dab hand at it. Just like 'Paleo' Pete Evans, his scope of practice includes red wine jus, not medicine. Gwenyth Paltrow fancied a bit of amateur gynaecology advocating steaming one's vagina to clean it (tip: vaginas are self-cleaning apparatuses) Everyone can absolutely educate themselves but reading a few dubious quality articles on the internet does not give you the right to perpetrate dodgy and dangerous information, especially if you have a following of sorts.
4. When entire scientific communities tell you you're wrong, perhaps we should listen
Poor old Belle Gibson. She bravely battled brain cancer with diet and a whole bunch of doctors said, 'yeah, she probably didn't'. The general feeling was that she was losing her battle or that she was not entirely honest. I suppose somewhat fortunately, it was the latter and she isn't dying of brain cancer. I don't want to make this an 'I told you so moment' but sometimes, those who know, do actually just know when information and claims are not worth the paper (or screens) they're printed on.
I honestly wish science was sexier, medicine was sexier with an Instagramful of perfectly executed and edited pictures showing how much we know and therefore pique the interest of the public more than all the dangerous and dodgy information around. Unfortunately, though, we're a bit too busy doing real science-type things to do that and I have no idea how to make blood and guts have mass appeal.
I'm standing up to the people who bully science because Seth Sentry was absolutely right, science is amazing. It sends people to the moon and powers our cars. It even invented the wheel for the fixed gear bike and the stove tops to make some sort of health broth. It's cool, it's ever evolving and it's saving our bacons regularly. And I'm sure we'll get hoverboards soon enough