Doing your own research is always a good idea, especially if you’re confused about a topic or wish for further clarification. However, it’s also important to recognize that while scientific, historical and media literacy can be extremely beneficial for anyone to learn, at some point we do have to defer to the experts.
This can be a real issue when it comes to any online space or learning from friends and family members, because anecdotes can often be quite convincing, even if they’re based on faulty evidence. However, that’s not to say anecdotes are worthless. If you’re part of an alcoholic anonymous program, for instance, learning a few tidbits of advice for a sober lifestyle from someone who was once in your position can help, even if they’re practical steps and not necessarily integrated in scientific studies.
When you have a health issue or concern, it’s very easy to find yourself Googling like an internet athlete, and drawing conclusions wherever possible. This doesn’t mean you’re ill-intentioned or silly for doing so, but it’s always important to discipline yourself before believing anything that sounds too good to be true.
In this post, we’ll discuss how you can avoid difficult online rabbit holes and know when to disregard certain advice:
Always Check For Sources & Credentials
It’s important to make sure you verify all information you take to heart. In general, the official guidance given by official health organizations is reliable, because it shows the operational knowledge they’re working with, gives you access to up-to-date statistics, and will also be updated as more understanding and peer-reviewed evidence comes out.
The same goes for those who discuss advice online, especially on platforms such as YouTube or those selling their own membership clubs. Make sure you verify the credentials of anyone you take advice of, even those who might state they have medical experience in comments. This might sound obvious, but even well-meaning, intelligent and hard-to-fool individuals can easily be taken in by authoritative statements, facts that seem true but aren’t quite valid, and especially stories that confirm the narrative we hope to believe.
In many cases, you can find reachable, capable experts through platforms worth appreciating, allowing you to cut through all the nonsense. For instance, you can ask an ENT expert about a particular condition you’re having rather than asking those with tangential health conditions similar to yours.
Take Online Comments With A Pinch Of Salt
Online comments can promise the world, from stating that a catch-all lifestyle change to help cancer will guarantee results, to discussing their miraculous recovery from certain ailments. However, you don’t have to see an obviously egregious falsehood to make logical leaps or be taken in by faulty logic.
For instance, it might even be an internet user that leaves a heartfelt Reddit post about their experience healing from an injury or managing an illness is genuinely insightful in their own mind. They may be putting forward a real, honest account of what happened to them, and how they feel about it. However, they might not be entirely knowledgable about all the influencing effects and necessities that contributed to this, instead chalking up the solution to a lifestyle change they’ve made, or a certain medication. If you take that as truth, then it’s very easy to go forward with poor logic, and think that those telling you any different are simply unaware.
Again, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be wilfully ignorant, unintelligent, or inexperienced to find that anecdotal evidence compelling. It’s not a great moral failing on your part if you do. However, it’s always worth keeping in mind that unless this has been proven, it cannot be verified, and as such, shouldn’t be acted upon.
Use Your Own Experience, It Does Count
That’s not to discount the value of anecdotes in helping inform, but not making, certain decisions. While a doctor or health expert does know better than you in terms of pathway solutions for your own health, it can be worthwhile to make certain considerations known.
For example, it may be that your doctor recommends getting exercise in nature, but due to the pollen count this might feel miserable for you, and antihistamine medications may make you feel incredibly drowsy and give you blurred vision – known side effects that can occur.
As such, you might look to something different, such as walking at night when the symptoms aren’t so pronounced, exercising at home where necessary, or heading to a local gym instead. This is a small change but influenced by what works for you, approved by your physician as necessary.
Understand Knowledge Can Shift & Change
It’s also important to note that knowledge is often updated and becomes more precise as theories are tested, recuperative care measures are reviewed, and medications are approved. As such, prior knowledge wasn’t meant to catch you out, only it was the best framework of use at the time.
As the advent of AI becomes more and more integrated in healthcare research, we can expect those capabilities to research new medications, new healthcare pathways, and to learn more about certain conditions. This doesn’t mean that you’ve been tricked, it just means that knowledge was updated.
At one point, Hippocratic custom suggested using leeches to bleed patients in order to balance the “humors” of the body. This was considered a worthwhile practice. However, we now know that to be pseudoscience at best, causes more harm than it’s worth. Odds are, there will be treatments we consider similar to this in the future.
That said, it’s essential to still carry faith in the evidence-based medical system and the hardworking souls who are fighting diseases, conditions, and the limitations of disability every day of their professional lives. Understanding that can help you avoid looking to unverified sources online for information. Even if you do follow online figures, those with a clear logical discipline and sources to approved studies and reports can still be helpful. This way, you never lower your standard of evidence and can avoid thinking with faulty logic.
WIth this advice, you’re sure to avoid online, health-oriented rabbit holes, which in our culture is an important skill to keep.
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