Friday, November 1, 2013

An informal discussion with Dr. Paul Offit: recap

Dr. Paul Offit stopped by PSPG to lead a discussion on snake oil and pseudoscience and how scientists can combat misinformation. An excellent example of this issue is the ubiquitous use of dietary supplements to treat everything from colds to weight loss to depression. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA and are not rigorously tested for safety and efficacy and yet millions of Americans believe that multi-vitamins and supplements keep them healthy. These daily supplement capsules are packed with more vitamins than a person could possibly get from a normal diet, and yet there is no evidence that more is better. Because supplements are unregulated, what you see on the bottle is not necessarily what you get: there have been instances in which the supplement was actually 30x more concentrated than what the label claimed, and there have been cases of contaminated supplements causing death. So why is the general public so easily fooled? Because they believe they're ingesting "natural" alternative homeopathic remedies, rather than drugs which could have side effects, when in reality these supplements are drugs themselves made by the very pharmaceutical companies people are sticking it to. How can we as scientists combat this false narrative? Dr. Offit suggests to first use evidence-based science, and if all else fails appeal to emotion. In an ideal world, facts, evidence and reason would be enough to convince people, but unfortunately that is not the world we live in.

Dr. Offit is the author of numerous books his latest being Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All and Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.

Check out Dr. Offit on the Colbert Report in 2011!

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