How Can Smart People Be So Stupid?

This is a quick posting that begins to respond to the question posted today by Joe:

What I don’t understand is why the majority of doctors at Columbia did not say “This is obvious abuse of patients, and it will not be tolerated here.” Given his richly-deserved malpractice record, why was [Gonzalez] even associated with Columbia?

David Gorski answered it in part: “Grant money.” There are also other factors: widespread naivete about the nature of quackery, ignorance of the methods themselves, widespread lack of scientific sophistication among physicians (!), unwillingness to appear contrary to whatever the current trendy thing may be and more. I’ll mention some of the particulars regarding Columbia and Gonzalez over the next couple of weeks.

But today this advertisement arrived:


A discussion about Integrative Health with Christy Mack, President of The Bravewell Collaborative, Ralph Snyderman, Chancellor Emeritus for Health Affairs at Duke University, as well as President and CEO of Duke University Health System and Dr. Harvey Fineberg, President of the Institute of Medicine will air on the Charlie Rose show tonight. Please check your local listings for times and future air dates.

For more information or to view the segment on-line, please click on the following link:

Those of you who’ve been following SBM will recognize the imprints of all 3 of Charlie Rose’s guests in recent posts: Harvey Fineberg, who presided over the IOM’s entry in the most recent W^5/2; Christy Mack of the Bravewell Collaborative, which bankrolls the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine; and Ralph Snyderman of Duke. Snyderman and the “Consortium” were the authors of two of the misleading passages quoted in Misleading Language: the Common Currency of “CAM” Characterizations Part II.

I suspect that this show will reveal a lot—to those who are aware of the language distortions—about the insidious creep of pseudomedicine into places where it has no business going. If you can’t watch it tonight, go to the website and see it another time.

Posted in: Health Fraud, Medical Academia, Science and the Media

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5 thoughts on “How Can Smart People Be So Stupid?

  1. sashen says:

    One of the reasons smart people can be so stupid (which, by the way has been a mantra in our house for a few years), is that they think they’re immune to the cognitive biases that are ubiquitous among human beings… which, of course, makes them even MORE susceptible to them.

    Also, they’re often able to frame their irrational arguments in ways that less-smart people can’t criticize, giving them further proof of their genius.

    And then, add that people who think themselves less smart than our stupid smarties will tend to defer to the “wise one” in the room.

    If you want to see an amazing display of smart people being stupid, watch Bill Moyers’ series, “Faith and Reason,” which was full of the former and lacking in the latter (more accurately, it shows a number of smart people “jumping the intellectual shark” and rationalizing their illogical beliefs.

  2. Joe says:

    Kimball wrote “There are also other factors: widespread naivete about the nature of quackery, ignorance of the methods themselves, widespread lack of scientific sophistication among physicians (!)”

    I agree, there is widespread naivete and ignorance* among older doctors. There is also rampant inculcation of nonsense in doctors since the advent of the NCCAM (formerly, OAM). My sense is that older doctors only discover quackery when a patient is harmed.

    As for lack of scientific sophistication- when I first heard that I thought “Try getting a good grade in my class without being well-educated in organic chemistry.” However, science is two things- a method of studying the world, and the information obtained thereby. Mostly, we only teach the information- to the detriment of scientific method. Then, when quacks preach their nonsense, it sounds like what I taught (an “authority” speaks).

    I would like to teach organic chemistry differently; but there are standardized exams (ACS, GRE, MCAT) that do not allow the time.

    * This is not meant as an insult, I am naive and ignorant of many things, e.g., law. That is just a fact.

  3. So far the Charlie Rose interview is not available online. That’s unfortunate, because the comments of people who watched the original are depressing, to say the least:

    Sashen and Joe hit the proverbial nails on their proverbial heads. Bill Moyers also helped jumpstart the pseudomedicine movement in medical schools with his naive portrayal of pseudoskeptics in his “Healing and the Mind” series. “Science” is an ambiguous term, all right. It has at least one more meaning–the scientific enterprise, including the people and and institutions involved in it. That’s one more basis for the confusion found in arguments between people who, whether aware of it or not, are speaking of different things. See:

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