Thursday, November 01, 2007

When we stop listening...

“Number 4 spawn,” my mother said to me many moons ago, “there are certain discussions you never enter into with the intent of changing anyone’s opinion; politics and religion.”

Mom almost had it. She forgot hair color, bra size, who ate most of the Halloween candy, good-looking guys, and whether those pants really make my butt look fat. I’ve also added integrative medicine to the list because it seems to bring out the beast in people rather than the best. After all, we’re passionate beings – especially with certain issues.

A couple weeks ago I had occasion to be part of a discussion panel with all kinds of medical types sitting in the audience. The discussion was about integrative medicine and its place within traditional medicine. I won’t lie; I was scared out of my Victoria Secrets. My only credentials are that I write about doctors and how their belief systems influence their lives and treatment of their patients. Given that my book presents the pros and cons of this issue, the event organizers felt I’d be an interesting addition to the panel, which was comprised of docs of all disciplines who utilize varying forms of alternative healing methods in their practice.

So I sat down feeling pretty good, comforted that it would be the docs to the right and left of me who would take gas. Nothing could have amazed me more than to become a target for one particularly disagreeable type. Without preamble, he stood up and told me that I was “little more than a member of the lunatic fringe,” and “who the hell are you to advocate this integrative medicine bullshit.” He finished up with, “there’s no scientific data that proves its efficacy, and your real purpose for being here is to sell books.” Well, okay, he’s got me there on the last point. I don’t know of a single author who doesn’t. I was particularly saddened when he denigrated a respected surgeon I’d researched with as being unintelligent because his opinions differed from that of my blathering detractor.

He reminded me of an anonymous doc I encountered on a blog recently. Anonymity is such a lovely tool because it grants anyone carte blanche to behave as badly they want. I’ve never hidden behind anonymity – though there are plenty times that I wish I did, but I digress…

His wrath hurt. Right to the core. This man knows nothing of me or my book, yet he flipped a middle finger to the sanctity of good behavior in order to humiliate me and accuse me of being disingenuous. I understand that he feels integrative medicine is dangerous and is promoted by snake oil artists who rip people off. He’s scared and angry, and I empathize. That’s precisely why this seminar had been offered.

I’ve been speaking to groups for a long while, and I know nothing good comes from confrontation. No matter how passionately someone feels about a particular subject, screaming at someone with an opposing view only proves that we aren’t listening. Where’s the exchange of ideas? At that point, why bother?

When people speak in absolutes, they are basically stating there’s snowball’s chance in hell their opinion will ever change. “Anyone who believes in integrative medicine is an idiot, and because I said so makes it true.” Is this a case where we can agree to disagree? Like politics and religion? Is it remotely possible? I do all the time with many of my doc friends, but there’s a level of mutual respect.

Hey, it may very well be that integrative medicine is a bunch of hooey. Then again, I can’t speak in absolutes because I’ve witnessed to too much to believe that and so have a lot of docs and other medical professionals. That’s why I sat, dazed and shocked, at this man’s spew. As he was being shown the door, I thought about other doors, metaphorically speaking, that were also being shut. So much for discussion about controversial ideas.

I wonder what Mom would think about that. Then again, I think she dropped me on my head when I was very young…


#1 Dinosaur said...

The difference is that in science, it is possible to change someone's mind, because science isn't (or shouldn't be) about "opinion." If you happen to "believe" that bacteria in the stomach can cause ulcers and you go ahead and prove it scientifically -- using science's own rules -- then yes, you can change people's minds.

You're welcome to believe that the sun revolves around the earth, but you should not expect a warm welcome at a meeting of professional astronomers, nor are you entitled to whine about their refusal to "listen to opposing viewpoints."

(That said, I do agree you were treated shamefully.)

(I may blog this comment, mainly because I've had a nasty case of blogger's block lately. Or do you think that 10 hour days at the office and trying to write a novel in 30 days has anything to do with it?)

Orac said...

There's a saying out there that you're entitled to your own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts. The problem with the vast majority of "integrative" or "alternative" medicine is that it wants to be entitled to its own facts, "facts" such as water having a "memory" of substances diluted out of it to the point where not a single molecule remains or the existence of a "life energy field" that practitioners can "manipulate," for example. Alt-med practitioners or advocates can certainly believe that such things exist and can be used to "heal," but, as #2 Dinosaur says, they should not expect that they'll be able to go to a meeting of scientists and expect not to be given a hard time.

I will concede, however, that it is possible to refute such nonsense in a strong way without sinking into personal attacks.

tk said...

Wow . . .

woolywoman said...

Well, you don't know if the anonymous one WAS a doctor. Maybe he just plays one on TV. The special TV, that only he can hear. Whike I am skeptical by nature and training, I believe in efficacy. If it work, good. If it doesn't work, well, I hope it didn't cost too much.

Lynn Price said...

Ooo...been gone at a writer's conference...Dino, you should have come to La Jolla and joined me.

Yes, yes, I realize that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I embrace this right until the government sees fit to take that right away from me as well.

I didn't comment on what happened at the rest of the seminar. The direction respectful and the audience's curiosity was genuine, much like Dino's and my conversations except there was plenty of science-y stuff flying back and forth. Since I'm not a scientist, I was pretty much worthless except when it came to talking about my personal experiences my research with altie docs and their patients.

Orac, that's exactly the point. No one believed for a minute that those of us sitting on that panel was going to be given a free ride or even an easy one. Even though I am committed to integrative medicine, I am extremely conservative about its use because docs bring up very valid concerns that have to be addressed. That's why the seminar was created.

Ahem, yes, Dino, I think trying to crank out a novel in 30 days requires a Hemingway week that includes heavy drinking and expensive cigars.

red rabbit said...

I guess I just have a hard time with most types of CAM because the people who are pushing it push so hard. Some practitioners aren't willing to back off when a patient really needs us- the "allopathic" docs, as some would have it. These practitioners tell their clients not to vaccinate their kids (thanks to bad science) and to refuse C-section (because everybody knows we do them just for fun) and to treat chest pain with neck manipulation (which is great for asthma and MI I hear).

I'm very much a live and let live sort of gal, but putting my patients' health at risk, not to mention taking them for fools as some practitioners are surely doing, well, that does get me fired up.

No excuse for shouting at you, but I expect the shouter may have been dealing with some of the above. Still, sad to have you treated shamefully.