Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Laughter confuses medicine

I want to share with you a pet peeve of mine, which I believe undermines far too many critical discussions on a whole range of topics. What ticks me off is when one of the participants in a debate laughs in a deprecating manner, with the clear intent to mock the opposing opinion. What really irks me is when the "know it all" who is laughing, has no right to, based on the evidence.

I was watching a talk show hosted by a physician. The physician was hosting one of the low-carb evangelists. The host himself was of the low fat camp. In order to "introduce" the topic to the audience, the host demonstrated a meal plan from each camp. He started with his regular breakfast which was based on "clean carbs" like granola and yogurt. To demonstrate the low carb option, he presented a greasy plate covered with bacon and eggs. He continued to make such comparisons for lunch and dinner. All along,  laughter from the audience was was ever present. The presentation was very effective. It made it look as if the low carb diet plan was SO ridiculous that no person in their right mind would ever consider it.

This whole presentation was totally unprofessional. If in fact, the host, as a physician, wanted to discuss the options of various diet plans, then the debate would have been welcomed and more so, been productive. However, the host, in my opinion, was so defensive and unsure of his position of proper eating, that he needed to resort to mockery in order to win public opinion. The audience, which were clearly adherents of this host, also chimed in to the laughter at the appropriate cues. When the guest began to present his view, he was already at a clear disadvantage. And in my opinion, he was far too polite in his response to all of the challenges.

A doctor, no matter how many years in practice, MUST stay humble. There are endless stories of the medical community totally missing the mark. In retrospect, we could easily laugh at their naivety and blindness to the facts, just as they laughed at anyone who challenged their ideas at their time.

And when a physician is engaging in a debate, keep it focused on the facts. On the TV show, it was clear that an effort was made to make the low carb meals visually unappealing. Who would want a soppy plate full of grease ? On the other hand, a low carb meal could just as easily be a piece of beautiful salmon and a salad and a big glass of water. And one could just have easily presented a doughnut and cup of coffee for the low fat group. The only stipulation would be that the rest of the day would compensate for the fat and sugar in the doughnut. But even on a low fat diet, you could have a doughnut. Would anyone now say that a doughnut and coffee is better than salmon and salad ?

Another fascinating point that was totally ignored, was that the host, as he went through the meals, was clearly full and effectively lost his appetite as the day wore on. he nevertheless forced himself to continue. But one of the key principles of the low carb diet is that you get satiated and STOP eating before you have consumed too many calories. So the low carb is self regulating. And the host of this show, who intended to mock low carb diets, actually proved their effectiveness.

SO my general message is simple. Do not laugh at opposing ideas. And when you hear someone make their argument by speaking WITHOUT facts, but with denigrating statements intended to embarrass the opposing camp, be VERY suspicious. He who laughs has something to hide and may very well not have anything of value to teach you.

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