Something strange has happened to me since beginning this blogging/book writing/documentary making journey.
I’ve become a pigheaded skeptic.
I can’t seem to read any study without an intensely critical eye. I’m not talking about breastfeeding-related stuff, either – it can be anything from a link between in utero environment and future health outcomes, to how plastics cause cancer. First, I look at the background of those involved – their associations, degrees, areas of interest. I continue on to the sponsors of the study; who funded it, and why. And then of course, I look at the methodology, the controls, and what the findings actually say versus what is extrapolated on in the discussion section.
When I am done with all of the hyper-analyzing, I normally end up annoying everyone who has the misfortune to mention said study in my presence, by explaining all that is wrong with how the media reported it, why the study was entirely blind to several relevant confounding factors, and so forth. My friends are starting to realize that it’s the better part of valor to just keep their mouths shut about “new scientific reports” around me, lest they end up listening to an hour-long lecture. My friends are saints, have I mentioned this?
The problem with having your eyes opened to all the inherent flaws, all the human error, all the publication bias and ego and politics, is that it makes you so gosh darn cynical. Even studies which support things I believe in aren’t immune to my wrath. You’re telling me vegetarians diets cut the risk of cancer? Great, says the veggie of 20 years, who is currently raising her children on the same diet. But the Fearless Formula Feeder says, wait just a second, buster. Could it be that vegetarians lead healthier lives in general? Even taking it for granted that the obvious things were controlled for – exercise, body weight, etc., there are some things that make me wonder. Could it be that those who have the economic privilege to choose a more restrictive, expensive diet live in better conditions overall? Or that we most likely also care about things like organic cleaning products, alternative medicine, etc…?
It doesn’t stop there. I’ve gotten so fed up with politicians and advocacy groups – most of whom have over-simplified their issues du jour in a multitude of understandable but still unfortunate ways – sticking their noses into my business, that I’ve recently had to start practicing apathy in order to protect my own sanity. I used to be a responsible, involved citizen. I used to care about issues. Now, I pretty much just care about my own family, my own friends, and a few key issues like animal rights, gay rights, and womens’ rights (but even my dedication to the latter has been marred by my disappointment in how my own gender turns on each other at the drop of a bott- err, hat) and the rest of it just fades into the talking-head-filled ether.
I can’t say I was happier before I became so apathetic, exactly. But it can make you dizzy, after awhile, all this second-guessing and skepticism. I encourage people to approach news more critically, but I fear that leads to approaching life more critically… and do I really want to wish that on anyone?
I searched for quotes on cynicism or skepticism, to try and end this rambling, esoteric, election-night post on a poetic note, but everything I found was negative and depressing. But then I found one that brought me back to the main point of this blog – and I think it imparts what I am trying to accomplish, even at the risk of being an apathetic, cynical loser.
“Education has failed in a very serious way to convey the most important lesson science can teach: skepticism.” – David Suzuki