USA Today: Are celebrities crossing the line on medical advice?

From USA Today: Are celebrities crossing the line on medical advice?

In her book Mother Warriors, McCarthy, who declined to be interviewed for this story, says she learned about autism from “the university of Google.”

Explaining complex science – especially in the few minutes allotted on a TV program – is challenging, Carroll says. Audiences sympathize with McCarthy, who says she doesn’t need science because she observes her son, Evan, every day. “At home,” she writes, “Evan is my science.”

“How can you argue with that?” Carroll asks. “It’s her child. It’s her body. They win.”

This really gets to the heart of what worries me about what I’ve taken to calling “The Perception Engine.” We’ve entered an era in which the distance between a human mind and the confirming (or disconfirming) information that would support (or undercut) a pet theory is essentially zero. Just as previous generations amplified their muscle power with steam and the internal combustion engine, we’ve amplified our senses. How will we use this newfound power? Will there be a flowering of reason and understanding? Or will a thousand conspiracy theories bloom, as people give in to the lure of confirmation bias?

Both, it sounds like.

17 Responses to “USA Today: Are celebrities crossing the line on medical advice?”

  1. shcb Says:

    I’m guessing someone said the same thing with the invention of the printing press.

  2. forbes Says:

    So far I’m seeing more confirmation bias than flowerings of reason, and your cited example is a case in point: Jenny McCarthy’s “university of Google” isn’t even in the same *league* with the scientific method, and yet the scientist quoted in the article concedes that, in the public eye, McCarthy’s tear-jerking anecdotes will probably trump years of research and mountains of data.

    But, hey, science and superstition have been duking it out since the dawn of science, and the only reason science is winning is because science actually *works*. Airplanes fly. Antibiotics cure. It’s only at the margins, where science can’t explain things yet (or the explanation has no practical value), that the superstitions can still prevail — and, unfortunately, autism falls into that category today: We don’t know what causes it.

    Eventually we’ll discover the real cause of autism, using the scientific method, and the Jenny McCarthys of the world will move on — with no remorse, or even acknowledgement, that they recklessly endangered the lives of millions of children by peddling superstitions about vaccines.

  3. jbc Says:

    Hey, Scott (Forbes)! Great to see you again. I didn’t realize you had started blogging again. Now that I do, I’ll be sure to put you back in the list of sites I routinely read.

  4. knarlyknight Says:

    Yes, the conflict between superstitions (dare we say religion) etc. and science is not new, and it is only the amperage of the debates that are ramped up via info. technology. What’s the alternative jbc, censorship of all but “facts” and esteemed or consensus opinions?

    Consider that physics is now determining strange things that were considered impossible not very long ago, e.g. what you do to a subatomic particle now influences how it behaves in the past. Consider also that Jenny might be wrong about the overall public health benefits of vaccinations and is probably also wrong about the risks involved but nevertheless she may very well be 100% correct about what vaccinations did to her son.

  5. shcb Says:

    I remember when Steve McQueen was diagnosed with terminal cancer and went to Mexico as I recall for some kind of goofy treatment. There was the same worry that people would try untested methods instead of more traditional medicine. People worried his celebrity status would entice people to try the same treatments, and they did, and he died, and they stopped getting the treatments. It was blamed on Television since the internet was still being invented by AlGore at the time. In fact I don’t think the Commodore 64 was on the market at that time. Didn’t I read that they found some princess or queen that died of gold poisoning in the Roman times recently because they thought that ingesting gold would make them live longer? That was definitely before the internet. And that was a fad perpetrated by the rich and famous as well.

  6. Smith Says:

    Yeah, I don’t think Goldschläger is going to do much for your health.

  7. jbc Says:

    It was blamed on Television since the internet was still being invented by AlGore at the time.

    I know this is just a minor side issue, but it actually dovetails with what I was thinking about with this item. shcb, do you actually believe Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet? (Bonus points if you use the Internet to verify your answer.)

  8. shcb Says:

    No I don’t even think Gore said he invented the internet, or if he did he was taken out of context. It is just one of those things that have been perpetuated by telling it so often, like Bush lied to get us into Iraq.

    I agree with you for the most part on this issue, I think the point I diverge from your opinion is that this is somehow made worse by the enhanced ability of communication provided by the Internet. It may for a short period of time but like the printing press or television we will, or maybe already have, adapt and refine our filters.

  9. shcb Says:

    Darn! Missed the bonus points.

    Merry Christmas JBC

  10. enkidu Says:

    Back then there was this young guy who kept talking about The Information Superhighway. Can’t quite recall his name… maybe I’ll ask the great and powerful goog…

    Merry Christmas to all.

  11. knarlyknight Says:

    Wddya mean Al Gore didn’t invent the internet?

    & 2all g’night.

  12. knarlyknight Says:

    Oh, one more thing: Merry Christmas shcb:

  13. shcb Says:

    I saw that article below when Enky posted it. It’s interesting, but I think his original intent of producing electricity for third world countries is about all the extent this technology will be good for. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t see this being viable for industry and since that is what most of our electricity is used for that will always be the driving force. Now decentralized systems like this might play a part in our energy future but it won’t be the total answer. For instance I can see people that live like we do on a system like this, we live in an area that has septic systems, decentralized waste water treatment. Modern septic systems are built on this same concept, there is no need to run a pipe to every house, especially when they are all an eighth of mile apart. After living with this system for a decade I have come to the conclusion that we should do more of this. There is no reason why front yards in subdivisions can’t be leach fields, we have the best stand of grass on our property over our leach field, we don’t water it, we don’t fertilize it, just mow.

    But there are a couple reasons they don’t use septic more. The first is there is some personal responsibility involved, there is some minor maintenance required on occasion. If that maintenance isn’t performed the system fails. Secondly is it is a natural system, the water is pumped under the grass and the grass filters the water and releases it to the atmosphere where it falls somewhere else as rain. With a pipe, every drop goes right back into service immediately.

    I can see this system being used in a similar way, rural or x-burb areas could use small units for single family homes, suburbs could possibility use larger versions that would service a few blocks but still be maintained by utility companies. This would reduce the line loss at the low voltages required in residential areas, the biggest inefficiency in electrical generation. Then the current grid could support the decentralized system in the event of local outages. I don’t know how practical this would be in reality, but it might play a part.

  14. knarlyknight Says:


  15. shcb Says:

    You know how big a fan I am of federalism, states’ rights. One of the reasons I like things at the state level is it gives us fifty little incubators to try things out. Similarly I think our power generation will end up evolving over the next 40 or 50 years until that magic bullet is found, and maybe the magic bullet isn’t there. Usually technology and distribution systems just evolve into something that works, and then continue to evolve. 75 years ago would anyone have imagined container ships? Something as simple as a big reusable container that can be place on a ship, a train or a truck. Seems simple now but look what it took to get here, my car keys are always in the last place I look. There may have been someone that envisioned it but not in the configuration it ended up. It just evolved.

    One last thing on the grid. Solar and wind can only give us about 10% of our power, but we continue to use more and more power, so use technology like this and renewables to produce that increase, at least we aren’t making new plants that way, or not as many. Then we can refine these technologies on these small scales. I don’t have a problem using the Copenhagen money to finance some of this either, I just want my money going to the problem, not social spending.

  16. knarlyknight Says:

    Stop saying that wind and solar can only provide 10%, the figure now is proably closer to 20% or more and with a little creativity I cansee ways to kick that up to about 75%. Your esimate of 50 -70 years to evolve a solution would be okay based on past history, using a linear time scale, but we have truly witnessed a exponential increase in knowledge and developments which means that you sound like a dinosaur thinking that it’ll take that long. We’re talking 20 years maximum, by which time the solutions will be in place and need for fossil fuels will be decreasing at a rate greater than world hydrocarbon production declines. (By the way, this eggnog is delicious, I wonder what kind of rum is in it?)

    Or do I get a prize too?

  17. shcb Says:

    That 10% figure is based on the amount of reserve the current grid typically has. Yes it can go as high as 20%, Denmark is currently producing about 20% of their power with wind, they are at the maximum, they didn’t build a single turbine in their country last year from what I understand. They are exporting their business to America, Vestas (sp) is building a couple plants right here in Brighton, a good friend of my wife works for them. You simply can’t use sources that aren’t on demand for more than that, or at least not without a huge investment. The problem in the United States is distance, the wind is in flyover country and the need is on the coasts. The power has to be boosted into the 100s of thousands of volts to be efficiently transmitted that far and we don’t have that infrastructure. Even then it maxes out at that 10%-20% unless you want to turn into a third world country. We make a fiberglass product, our supplier or glass, Johns Manville has shut down some of their ovens with the recession, it costs 2 million dollars to start one back up. They simply can’t have an interruption in power, most industry is the same. This is just the physics and the economics of the situation, I can’t change that.

    A few years ago, maybe 15, I was working on parts for a supercollider that was built to study sub atomic particles, they were basing their estimates on having super conductivity and cold fusion in 30 years back then, so 15 years from now, I don’t see that happening so I think 50 years is fairly realistic. Plus there is a little vanity here, I’ll be 103 in 50 years, I just might see it in my lifetime. I hope you’re right that the solution will be in 20 years but my guess is we will still be discussing it then. But I never thought I would have 6 computers in my house 20 years ago either.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.