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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.

Posted in: Book & movie reviews

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28 thoughts on “Spreading the Word

  1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    The Teaching Company produces some truly great series’, I really enjoy listening to them. I’ve recommended the series to my library for purchase, and am considering actually buying a copy of the series! Excellent, thanks to Drs. Hall and Novella.

  2. My contribution to SBM is my own large website, SaveYourself.ca, about science-based self-treatment options for common pain problems. Surprisingly, I actually make a decent living this way, which allows me to sink lots of energy and cash into creating better resources for readers.

    I go way beyond blogging: I have built up a large archive of carefully curated and updated articles over the years, heavily referenced. I publish a reading guide to all this goodness just for card-carrying skeptics.

    There have been some nice skeptical victories in my publishing career, like a modest legal victory against censorship, and search prominence on many pain topics that would otherwise be completely dominated by snake oil salesmen.

    And I put in some time copyediting for this fine website you’re reading right now. For instance, I edited this post. :-) It’s always a pleasure and an incredible education to work with the contributors here.

    Like Harriet, I too would like know what feathers SBM readers have in their caps. There are lots of regular commenters I recognize. What do you do?

  3. BobbyG says:

    “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 never, ever felt that way. This blog is a precious resource for me. I have the greatest respect for the contributors here. I visit every day. Keep up the compelling work.

  4. Linda Rosa says:

    I got my copy of Novella’s Medical Myths yesterday. It’s a tour de force! Congratulations!

    I hope people will consider buying an extra copy to donate to their local library.

  5. HH “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)”

    I’ve decided it was some sort of Dorian Grey technique. Somewhere, in some tumbled down mansion, there are portraits of the SBM writers, looking terribly sleep deprived, malnourished with crooked shoulders and knotty fingers crumpled up in some sort of keyboard induced malformation.

    It’s easier not to feel like a slacker that way.

  6. Fantastic! I generally find the Teaching Company lectures are of excellent quality, and this is sure to be one of the best.

  7. jre says:

    Dear Superwoman: I note with interest that you and the supermen will be at TAM 2011; also that there is a workshop titled “Promoting and Defending Scientific Medicine.” Could you share a sneak preview with us?

  8. Draal says:

    I’ve become a contributing writer at Michigan Skeptics Association. My inspiration can be directly traced back to SGU and Neurologica. I’ve a new appreciation for what it takes to contribute to a blog on a regular basis. Thanks Dr. N!

  9. Saffron says:

    I work for a major medical journal. One of my responsibilities is to catch flaws in reporting that may have been overlooked or not fully corrected during the peer review process for submitted research papers.

    SBM has been an important part of my self-education over the past several years, and I consider it ultimately responsible for more than one jaw-dropping catch. Cheers.

  10. nybgrus says:

    As a medical student I advocate the teachings of SBM with my classmates whenever I get the chance. I refer them to this website and others whenever they show some interest. I collaborate with friends at Chicago Medical School on small projects and personal writing on these topics which we both disseminate to our classmates. I engage my professors and physicians I work with whenever possible on the topic and do my best to make them think I am well spoken and educated on the topic so that they may listen to me more. That has lead to me becoming the head of education for my cohort and as such I get to speak with top faculty here in regards to education – specifically my focus is USMLE prep. I also design, write content, and teach the first year cohort here in USMLE prep and use that time to make clear the distinction between EBM and SBM and how that actually affects us. Traditionally EBM, pop health and ethics are less studied by students since they are perceived as less important, easy, and not comprising very high yield content for the boards. When we do cover such topics I always take time to stress how important a solid understanding is and how to apply that to critical thinking and decision making in medical treatments. I often quote SBM articles as examples where this has failed, and I openly critique our integrative medicine department and give concrete examples as to why.

    My goal is to continue to educate myself on these topics and to gain more experience in how to communicate these issues effectively to peers, physicians, and lay people so that I may do so more and more effectively and to a larger and larger audience as I continue through my education and career. Ultimately, I would love to be a guest speaker on radio and TV shows offering legitimate medical advice to counter the effects of people like Dr. Oz. That is a long off goal though. For now, I do what I can.

  11. kwombles says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Novella’s Teaching Company course and reviewed it at my blog, Countering and at the Teaching Company.

    In part, I wrote: His lectures are compelling in that they are based on an even-handed, dispassionate rhetoric that continues undaunted through potential minefields. It was a reminder, again, of why the anti-vaccine camp of Age of Autism despises him so. His credentials are impeccable (in other words, it’s not a fallacious appeal to authority, but a sound one based on the evidence); he’s calm and measured; he’s well-versed in his topics and offers clear reasons to back up his rejection of pseudoscientific claims. Despite one critic’s review contending Novella offered no evidence for labeling his topics myths and half-truths, there are twenty-four pages of bibliographical material bolstering the claims Novella makes in his lecture series.

  12. ConspicuousCarl says:

    The only thing I don’t like about The Teaching Company is if you pay more for a video format, they don’t let you download the MP3 version along with it to have both options. I can buy a video course and strip the audio, but that is an annoying process for such a large quantity of video.

  13. Harriet Hall says:

    jre asked “Could you share a sneak preview with us?”

    No, cause we don’t have any idea what we’re going to do yet.

  14. nybgrus says:

    Carl – I agree – and I would also love to have the option to pay to download the video. I don’t have a DVD player nor do I have an optical drive on my laptop – I so rarely need them – and I would definitely buy them if I could just download a copy. Dr. Novella – how about an iTunes purchase option?

  15. NYUDDS says:

    I’m afraid my small contribution is limited to “haranguing.”
    However, I have not stopped at family and friends. I include politicians in state and federal government positions, whom I know, and some I don’t know (NIH officials, the Surgeon General and the President.)

    I am always thankful for the clear-minded writing that appears on SBM. I try to imitate the style when speaking to non-scientists who are more concerned with re-election.

  16. nybgrus says:

    NYUDDS: Every little bit helps. Don’t think your contributions aren’t worthwhile. In fact, it is growing numbers of people like you that will be the biggest factor and loudest voice in these issues. Many people don’t even realize that this is and issue or that people are being harmed or even what exactly CAM is and how crackpot nutty it is. So keep up the haranguing and spreading the word!

  17. ConspicuousCarl says:

    nybgrus:

    They have video downloads now, the only problem is you have to buy either that or the mp3 (or pay for both).

  18. nybgrus says:

    so it is! I hadn’t looked… thanks for letting me know :-)

  19. nybgrus says:

    just bought it. Danke!!

  20. NYUDDS, I’ll second nybgrus’ encouragement and add that I often think that communicating with politicians is something I should really do more of. Goodonya, keep it up.

  21. jre says:

    No, cause we don’t have any idea what we’re going to do yet.

    On second thought, I think I like the anticipation better anyway. Oh, and I did order the Novella lectures.

  22. Toiletman says:

    In America, you really seem to make everythink commercial. The idea of online lectures are great and exists here,too, but for such prices?

  23. nybgrus says:

    toiletman: I agree, and it would be nice if it could all be free. However, economics is a reality. And I know that in supported Dr. Novella’s endeavors, I am truly supporting a good skeptic cause.

  24. Jann Bellamy says:

    @ Linda Rosa:

    “I hope people will consider buying an extra copy to donate to their local library.”

    Done! And a copy for the FSU Medical School library too. And one for me, which will be loaned out freely.

    @ nybgrus:

    Keep up the good work!

  25. Eddynyc says:

    Being a soon to be graduating Psychology major and comedian, I’ve always felt like there hasn’t been too much of a young presence in the skeptic community and I wanted to temper that however much I could so I recently just started up my own blog on skepticism, The Demon Haunted World

    It’s certainly a bit more on the comedic side of things as is my nature but I strive to be every bit as scientifically literate, accurate and unbiased as a skeptic can be. Growing up over the years, it’s been guys like Randi, the SGU and sites like this that have expanded my knowledge of the human condition so I’ve been wanting to do my part in that fight as well. It’s covered topics from paradolia to the vaccine debate(of which I referenced a post on SBM) but it basically covers anything having to do with skepticism at large.

    Don’t want to appear too much more self-promoting so I’ll just leave with a thanks to everyone on SBM. The fact that you guys can do all this alongside leading medical or sciencific careers is astounding. I can hardly keep with one weekly post myself.

    -Ed

  26. Rick says:

    I wish I could get CE credit for the “Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us” course. Any thoughts of SBM of providing CE credits?

  27. @toiletman, good quality content is incredibly time-consuming and expensive to create (especially video!). Without a price tag, that product simply couldn’t exist.

    That said: it’s remarkable that ScienceBasedMedicine.org is producing so much good content, but isn’t selling anything, or even leveraging traffic for advertising.

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