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Lessons Learned

I just returned from a trip to Montreal where I spoke at the Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium, an annual event that David Gorski spoke at a year ago. My topic was “Puncturing the Acupuncture Myth” and the other speakers were Paul Offit, Edzard Ernst, and Bob Park. I was honored to be in such august company; and we were wined, dined, and cossetted: overall, an experience that will count among the high points of my career. In addition to speaking at the Symposium, I was interviewed on the radio; participated in a roundtable discussion with other doctors, scientists and journalists; and was invited to speak to a large freshman chemistry class at McGill University. I told the students a bit about how I came to be the SkepDoc and some of the things I’ve written about, with “Vitamin O” as an example, and I provided 3 “lessons I have learned” from my investigations that are general principles applicable to other fields:

  • Roosters don’t make the sun come up.
  • Never believe one study.
  • The SkepDoc’s Rule of Thumb: when encountering a new or questionable claim, always try to find out who disagrees and why.

My presentation was recorded and is available as a webcast. Scroll down to “2011/11/08 HallOffit” near the bottom and click on the appropriate symbol to the far right. That saves me having to write a post this week. I think SBM readers will find it pertinent to all we discuss here.

Posted in: Science and Medicine

Leave a Comment (15) ↓

15 thoughts on “Lessons Learned

  1. DevoutCatalyst says:

    Is the radio interview posted online?

  2. Harriet Hall says:

    The radio show was the Dr. Joe Show on CJAD. It aired live but does not appear to be available online. http://www.cjad.com/Shows/TheDrJoeSchwarczShow.aspx

  3. I love those bullet points. They are very elegantly composed. A fine distillation.

    I am inspired to attempt to create similarly plainspoken translations of several other basic hazards in interpreting research.

  4. I like those bullet points, too. Except for the last one my rule of thumb is to see what the major points of contention are and how well each side’s argument holds up to a logical analysis.

  5. Harriet Hall says:

    @nobodyyouknow,
    “my rule of thumb is to see what the major points of contention are and how well each side’s argument holds up to a logical analysis.” That’s exactly what I meant by “find out who disagrees and why.” If you listen to my talk, you will get a fuller explanation.

  6. Quill says:

    I also enjoyed this presentation and the slides that went with it. And yes, too, on the bullet points — great three rules to keep in mind when hearing any sort of medical claim. I also especially enjoyed the Blue Dot metaphor as I hadn’t heard that one before.

  7. JPZ says:

    @Harriet Hall

    “…when encountering a new or questionable claim, always try to find out who disagrees and why.”

    So, I have a question, if someone disagrees with a new or questionable claim, should they provide evidence beyond their personal feelings on the matter?

  8. Harriet Hall says:

    @ JPZ,
    “if someone disagrees with a new or questionable claim, should they provide evidence beyond their personal feelings on the matter?”

    Well, duh, of course! The whole point is to find out if there is reason to question the claim and what evidence they have to support their disagreement, and then to compare the evidence and reasoning of both sides. Before everyone chimes in, how about listening to my lecture to see how I explained my rule.

  9. JPZ says:

    @Harriet Hall

    Thanks for your reply! My question had more to do with the Collagen thread, but your point overlapped a bit.

    I agree, I should listen to your lecture first!

  10. PJLandis says:

    Great Lecture Dr. Hill.

    I was watching another video in that link, Illusion of Dilution about Homeopathy and it’s interesting that Nature printed the Water Memory study results from Jacques Benveniste. The talk is more about Wishful Science, as opposed to outright fraud but I wonder if the Nature arrangement is common.

    The speaker mentions that Nature printed his article with the caveat that be allowed to observe his lab and have independent labs confirm the results. It seems like printing more psuedo-science in respectable journals under these same constraints would go a long way towards innoculating against bed studies and results. I feel like it would make reliance on one flawed, or outlying, study less palatable. At least it might prevent the casual reader from confusion.

    Maybe that already happens regularly, but if not it sounds like a good idea to me.

  11. lsimons says:

    Hello
    I am trying to download your webcast, and I keep getting the message :too large, cannot load > 10 mb. This is strange b/c I was able to listen to it on my iPhone the other day, and cannot do so now.
    Any suggestions?

  12. Anthro says:

    I listened and thanks for the link–I especially enjoyed hearing the Tooth Fairy segment. I always forget the gist of it when I read it, but the verbal version seems to have stuck much better. I tried to listen to Ernst, whose writing I have much admired, but I really could not get through it. He seems debilitated. I’ll stick to the written format.

  13. Chris says:

    There will never be a Zits cartoon based on Dr. Offit’s comments about his son in college. ;-)

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