Monday, June 13, 2016

A Few Ideas to Challenge Your Thinking

Last time I talked about how people today tend to live in their own “silos” or “echo chambers” with their own friends who stay friends by sharing the same thoughts and opinions.  When their beliefs are challenged, they turn inward looking for reasons to reject or ignore the new information or turn to their friends and like-minded news sources to relieve the tension.  The technical word for this psychological protection is confirmation bias.

Here are a few subjects to challenge widely held beliefs.  Test your reaction.

According to prevailing opinion, acupuncture is ancient and alternative, and therefore good.  News from Great Britain reminds us that acupuncture, like any treatment, should be able to prove its worth in well-designed clinical trials and everyday experience.  Medicine should never be judged on reputation alone or by individual testimonials.   The Guardian news tells us:  Acupuncture is no longer recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as a treatment for low back pain.  “The u-turn comes after a review of scientific evidence found that the practice was no better than a placebo in treating those living with low back pain and sciatica.”  After reviewing a large number of scientific trials for effectiveness, “there was still not compelling and consistent evidence of a treatment-specific effect for acupuncture.”  The National Health Service, the single payer healthcare in Britain, doesn’t want to pay for something that doesn’t work.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (DARE) is used in nearly 80% of the school districts in the United States and in many other countries to discourage the use of alcohol and other drugs.  It’s important to know how effective it is.  The program is very popular and appealing.  It’s common to see it advertised on bumper stickers and promoted by schools and the media, but does it really work or is it a waste of time and money?  The news from contradicts the conventional wisdom.  “Scientific evaluation studies have consistently shown that DARE is ineffective in reducing the use of alcohol and drugs and is sometimes even counterproductive -- worse than doing nothing. That's the conclusion of the U.S. General Accounting Office, 1 the U.S. Surgeon General, 2 the National Academy of Sciences, 3 and the U.S. Department of Education, 4 among many others. 5  [Note:  I left their links in the quote for anyone who wants to delve deeper into specific sources.]

Locally grown is the new by-word for produce, despite problems Chipotle had last summer in a number of their locations.  We now have fresh vegetables in the grocery store year round, but that doesn’t seem to be good enough.  Some people are pushing for more locally grown produce claiming it’s fresher and better for you.  Fresher food generally tastes better and delivers more nutrients – that’s why I have a vegetable garden in the backyard every summer – but there is one fly in the ointment.  The assumption that the local food system is as efficient and better controlled than modern farming is wrong, as reports.  “Today’s high crop yields and low costs reflect gains from specialization and trade, as well as scale and scope economies that would be forsaken under the food system that locavores endorse.”  Local food is harvested with less efficient methods and delivered in smaller volume leading to higher price – good for the middle class foodie who endorses the practice but another hurdle for the poor.  Those who believe commercial farming is wasteful and polluting, have never seen farm equipment guided by computer and GPS to deliver a shot of fertilizer in the precise quantity to the exact spot at the time required.  It’s fine to support the farmer’s market, but those who endorse moving as much of the system as possible to a local paradigm are trying to turn a personal preference into a requirement that would be a burden on others who are either not so interested or not so well off.

As mentioned last time, sometimes doing the right thing flies in the face of doing what feels like the right thing.  It takes courage to change your own mind and additional courage to challenge the fanatics who refuse to consider new arguments or facts.

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