Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Experts Trouble With So-Called Authoritative Blogs on the Internet

Tags: Expert or Not Blogs on Everything Medicine Science Political Blogs from So-Called Authoritative Sources

I have long had the peeve of bloviators in blogs on the Internet expound on topics which their knowledge is very limited, especially in the area of science and health using a google search to find information which “supports” their views by corporate scientists or those paid to consult with corporations such as Big Pharma, Oil Producers, or Medical specialists who have an ax to grind.

We got Vioxx, a host of deadly diabetes drugs, deadly drug interactions, and routine use of antibiotics and hormones to produce beef, chicken, and pork which has led to dangerous MRSA and C. Difficile bacteria resistant to many or even all drugs

Even though the research has been done to show that the indiscriminate medical treatment of animals for our food supply has caused MRSA to form, we continue to treat animals with these drugs. For decades I have concluded just based on scientific common sense that putting Antibacterial soaps on the market would increase resistant bacteria.

The evolution of drug-resistant bacteria is not just the result of prescription neglect. Antibacterial and antimicrobial soap, and other cleaning products you have in your bathroom and kitchen, are also responsible. Just as antibiotic prescriptions can be misused, so, too, can antibacterial products. When was the last time you washed your hands for the full 20 seconds that the national Centers for Disease Control suggests? Twenty seconds may not sound like much, but that's as long as it takes to belt out a full version of the ABCs.

Antibacterial and antimicrobial agents were created to prevent the spread of infection in hospitals. But companies began marketing these products to everyday consumers, too. As a result, more microbes are exposed to and develop resistances to these agents. …

Unfortunately almost all the journalists who write about science and medicine do not have the knowledge or intelligence to differentiate whether research coming out a reputable journal or from Harvard or similar school is actually based on confirmable evidence. We are often fooled by studies where they combine many studies (Meta Research) which combine many studies not examining a particular ailment, but somehow extracted from these studies by making simplifying assumptions which could be right many times and wrong many times.

One such study done on whether Hot Flash prevention hormones are safe for women? Two meta studies from reputable schools gave the opposite conclusions. I picked the right one based on both logic and my experience as a scientist. Stop using these hormones.

Scientists and doctors often disagree about research results that contradict their long held assumptions and research. So reading contrary opinion from well vetted sources is the best way to make a decision. Note I often send columns that disagree with what I tell you what I think. Whether oat bran lowers cholesterol is one where I picked the Minnesota over the Harvard study which said no based on how they did their research. The more thorough University of Minnesota study was correct.

Yes, prestigious medical journals often get it wrong because they are humans and fall victim to what we call Expert Opinion. If you think that the Wall Street Journal and/or New York Times provide only accurate news on the front page, read “Trust Us, We’re Experts,” Weekly analysis of the New York Times and Washington Post propaganda.

Books by staff of the Center for Media and Democracy:

Orac Surgeon/scientist Blog

Feature — July / August 2010

The Trouble With Experts

The Web allows us to question authority in new ways

By Alissa Quart

As long as I can remember, “the expert” arrived through news articles, inevitably a guy at that smart-sounding think tank, a famed professor of social science, a renowned author. The expert quote arrived toward the second half of most pieces, wafting out of some glorified institution, as iconic and predictable as Colonel Mustard in the board game Clue.

Structurally, the expert quote is supposed to act as the inarguable voice of reason, getting rid of any doubt left in our minds or splitting the difference between extremes. As the poet Philip Larkin writes of such voices, “Ah, solving that question / Brings the priest and the doctor / In their long coats / Running over the fields.”

But the mystique around expertise has always troubled those who bothered to think about it. The philosopher John Dewey expressed irritation over the unquestioned expert a long time ago, chiding that experts were but “a class” with “private interests and private knowledge.” As the British critic Adam Phillips writes in his book on the nature of expertise, Terrors and Experts, expertise carries with it some troubled assumptions—that “because a person has done a recognizable or legitimated official training they are then qualified to claim something more than that they have done the training.” Phillips points out that it is almost always a feeling of uncertainty that drives the non-specialist—the reader, the patient, the investor—into the arms of experts.

For journalists, this uncertainty is at the center of every traditional news story. Journalists have long gathered expert quotes, secretly hoping to have our angles confirmed and our fears of imposture put to rest. But also because many journalists believe there’s a Platonic truth out there, a definable explanation for everything under the sun—and the experts can tell us what that is.

But with the rise of the Web, as well as changing ideas of authority in general, “the expert” has come to mean something different from what it once did. There’s the rise of what the Brits call “experts by experience”—people like Jenny McCarthy, and also like Orac—who have emerged online because they write well and/or frequently on their subjects, rather than becoming an expert by acclamation of other experts or because of an affiliation with a venerated institution. The worst part of all of this is the thicket of false expertise available on the Web, mistaken by Google-search enthusiasts or, sometimes, na├»ve reporters, as real expertise. These fauxperts are not entirely new, but not many years ago they had a somewhat harder time getting their point of view presented as coming from an “expert.” ...

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