Healthy Skepticism

Healthy Skepticism

Quack?! Labeling as a challenge to true science

One of the easiest ways to dismiss information you don’t like or want to suppress is to label someone “a Quack”. It’s the kiss of death for new ideas and kills innovation.

I prefer to encounter new ideas with a healthy skepticism, which includes an inquisitive and open mind. Does the idea have a strong scientific, historical or other argument, even if it challenges accepted norms? Does it fit into my model of the world, and if not, do I need to question my model of the world? Being a healthy skeptic means not only evaluating ideas as they are presented to you, but examining your own assumptions for oversights and shortcomings. We all have own own blinders on, and by dismissing ideas out of hand we can fall easy prey to them.

Over the years many legit ideas from researchers have been labeled quackery- including the idea that the ‘lipid hypothesis‘ as the root of cardiovascular disease is deeply flawed. Researchers showing that fats are a necessary and even healthful part of the diet have been shunned as heretics, and the idea that we should consider eating according to evolutionary principles to avoid disease has been condemned as a ‘fad’ diet…

Power Games vs. Scientific Progress

I would be careful applying the label of ‘Quack’ to anyone. The label implies that their ideas are too outlandish, too trivial to even consider. It implicitly suggests that they should not just be ignored, but ridiculed and dismissed. That’s a dangerous attitude to have if you value learning and scientific progress.

“Quack”- it’s a touchy term that can be used to enforce the status quo and keep potentially open minds closed to new ideas. We simply don’t know everything– and by labeling someone a quack, we assume more knowledge than we can possibly possess. We place ourselves in the role of the judge, jury and executioner of their ideas.

We have a long history of labeling legit scientific inquiry as quackery. This is often more due to power, profit and politics than to the merit of the ideas themselves. Copernicus? Darwin? Galileo ring a bell? Bueller…?

Want more modern examples?

The idea of Epigenetics: how we can influence the expression of our own genetic code during our own lifetime, was originally dismissed out of hand. Scientists (and larger commercial interests) were too invested in pursuing the humane genome project which was to give science the ultimate (profitable and patentable $$) control of our genes. Turns out that we can largely control the expression of health or disease in our own genes by our own choices in life. This was a profit killer for the commercial interests, but a very empowering idea for the man on the street.

So before you stampede after the experts/media/masses to label someone to label someone a quack, consider thinking for yourself and adding in a dose of healthy skepticism.




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