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Scientific misinformation: Is ignorance bliss?

Our responsibility to inform – we are part of the ivory tower

Do a quick scroll in the newsfeed of your preferred social media sites. Stop scrolling once you find a post covering ideas or even proclaimed facts about cancer research or treatments. If your feed resembles ours, you could be reading headlines or ideas such as:

  • Cancer can be cured with fruits or herbs.
  • Diets that can cure cancer.
  • The cancer treatment has been discovered, but big pharma is hiding it for profit.
  • Meditation can treat cancer.
  • Even wine can cure… lung cancer?

The list goes on and can even extend after wandering in the rabbit hole.

Family, friends, and random people ask me about such topics. Most of the time, if not always, the comments are well-meant to confirm or fill an educational gap. As you can see from the shortlist of claims above, there can be some logic behind each of them. You could get some information from these articles that could make sense in a certain context. However, you know it, your parents know it, and many generations before us knew, so let’s all spell it out in unison: “a half-truth is often a complete lie”.

The information malignancy

I often want to keep scrolling down and just let these articles pass. After all, it’s just one article or post out of a flood of attention-seeking headlines.  Probably the original poster doesn’t know better or has hopes for the new “findings”. What could be the harm in that? And, most importantly, who are we to be criticizing people’s beliefs?

Then I realized that the stamp that these articles get as harmless is only valid as isolated cases. Confusing and/or hope-giving quasi-science, however, is more common than not and more available than ever. They have become part of a global problem and disinformation. In a time where homeopathy is part of pharmacy’s normal supplies, where supplement companies can sell you their product without any rigorous controls, we believe that experts in the respective fields can… nay, have a responsibility to inform our society about the real evidence-based science and debunk dubious or limited claims in the media or the feeds. It must be; before voodoo dolls and holy water can be spotted on the pharmacy shelves. Homeopathy has already reached them.

With today’s access to almost unlimited information about basically everything, it is next to impossible to separate evidence-based facts from FAKE news. This covers many topics: health, diets, medicine, you name it. It can become difficult to sort out the most reliable information. So, with the amount of misinformation we constantly experience, we’ll inevitably inoculate and integrate some of it and spread the new malignant knowledge to the next victim. This is not always a coincidence, confusion can many times serve the interests of some, but that can be a topic for later.

It’s important to get the facts straight, especially in the case of cancer and other common diseases. Misinformation can lead to sub-optimal treatment, which can, in the worse case, be fatal to a hopeful patient. If we believe that a glass of wine will cure lung cancer, why should we undergo a painful and long treatment? If pharma is hiding the cure, why should we ever trust the conventional medicine they produce?

The cure

So then again, who are we to be criticizing people’s beliefs or misinformed knowledge about health, biology, and cancer? The answer is that we are part of this minority with insight into the scientific world. That is, the walls of the ivory tower surround us as well. We know how experimental procedures are established, how they are to be understood, and the advantages and pitfalls of various scientific studies. We are the experts that you visualize on the ivory tower. Although we do not claim to know everything, in fact, far from it, we are going to do our best to inform you about the knowledge we have.

We are not alone in having the responsibility to correct erroneous scientific claims. All scientists or experts share this responsibility and should not only react to misinformation but also expose and explain their research topics. In doing so, we can avoid a lot of misunderstanding and confusion. Maybe we can even save a life by directly or indirectly stopping a cancer patient from trying to cure their cancer by eating an apple daily.

It’s hard for scientists to inform society methodically about their respective topics. That’s why we started the Ivory Embassy project. We would like to mediate between the general public and the science community. As your embassy, we will do our best to represent both worlds and to transmit messages from one to the other. By doing so, we can keep a dialogue. Tell us where we’re missing out or topics that are interesting to bring up. In turn, we will do our best to fill your knowledge gaps.

Ignorance will always be with us; there’s no avoiding it. It’s more, the more knowledge we get, the more ignorant we will feel. So, if ignorance is truly bliss, then you should be able to achieve blissfulness by feeding your intellect and getting more knowledge. Get it? Let the Ivory Embassy be a part of that process.

Until next time, don’t hesitate to contact us with questions and suggestions!

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