Writing an article about myths and shifting knowledge seems particularly appropriate in our post-election world. What we receive as news may be factual, biased, or even pure fiction, made up to sway public emotion. The explosion in fake news is no small matter; it had a significant impact on the presidential election results and may have cost Secretary Clinton the election. Craig Timberg wrote in The Washington Post, “The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation. (11/24/16)”
We live in uneasier times than we did a year ago. While I initially hesitated to write about politics, after watching NYC Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett’s TED talk, “Why your doctor should care about social justice,” I was encouraged to expand beyond discussions of medical issues. Fake news, spurring a fear of the other, affects our most vulnerable populations. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported on the “Trump Effect” in a survey of 10,000 K-12 educators on the impact of the election on schools, stating that 40% of those surveyed reported having “heard derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants and people based on gender or sexual orientation.” With the sharp rise in hate crimes, it is incumbent on all of us to question divisive rhetoric, to hold our leaders accountable for what they say, and to become active in the care of others (and especially, “the other”).
The idea that the truth is something that can be manipulated has long been the stock and trade of pharmaceutical companies. Over the course of my medical lifetime, research (often touted as the core of Evidenced Based Medicine) has been routinely manipulated to stress positive outcomes and hide negative ones, helping sales of pharmaceuticals while putting patients at risk for under- or un-reported potential adverse effects. In 2012, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline pleaded guilty to criminal charges for failing to report safety data on its diabetes drug, Avandia, and agreed to pay fines in excess of $3 billion.
“Imagine all the people living life in peace, . . . I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” –John Lennon
By failing to report negative findings, pharmaceutical companies provide skewed perceptions that their products are better than they are. In January Healthaffairs.org reported, “Although estimates vary, studies have found that up to half of all clinical trials never have their results published. . . studies showing positive results are twice as likely to be published compared to those that do not, and positive findings are also more likely to be reported promptly.” Ignoring unfavorable research misrepresents a drug’s benefits.
In 2005, a group of leading medical journals formed the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), with the purpose of writing guidelines for the conduct, reporting, editing and publication of scholarly work in medical journals. This organization meets annually to update its recommendations; its policy requires that its member journals only publish research that meets these guidelines. But the enforcement of ICMJE policies has been inconsistent and fewer than thirty percent of medical journals published in English require that its authors adhere to the ICMJE guidelines.
If medical research, a field with life-or-death impact, requires this degree of oversight to prevent financially-driven misdirection or flat out fraud, then how are we to determine what is true? In my nearly 30 years of studying medicine, I have been guided by a few key principles:
- Listen to the patient; he/she is the expert in his/her body.
- Never underestimate how little you know.
- The body is always trying to heal.
- Treat the cause, not the diagnosis.
What does this mean for an individual who is suffering from symptoms? Trust your instincts. Find a clinician who will listen to you, who will teach you about the body, and who will partner with you in your goal to optimize your health. Trust a doctor who can say, “I don’t know.” Don’t let your doctors treat a diagnosis in lieu of treating you as a person. At the foundation of all healing are the basic principles of good nutrition, meditative practices, and self-love.
In the days after the election, I saw a remarkable number of patients whose symptoms were exacerbated by their reaction to the election results. A large majority of my patients suffer from chronic, complex illnesses and the degree of exacerbation I saw was significant. I offered suggestions for ways to reduce their stress response. Certainly some of my patients were happy with the results and I am grateful that they were not affected, but I believe that everyone can benefit from suggestions to meditate, exercise, unplug, and center on the importance of love and acceptance in the world.
When I graduated from medical school, I swore the Hippocratic Oath. The modern version, written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, MD, states, “I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.” It is in the execution of this part of my Oath, that I write this article and affirm that Haven Medical is a safe place. We do not uphold HB2, will not participate in any proposed registry requirements, and work equally with all individuals, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or philosophy.
So while I normally write about medical conditions, I believe it’s critical to address a larger healing: healing the deep divide in our country and our world. We are divided in part because we have collectively suffered from corporate systems such as the Health Business (i.e., medical insurers whose primary interest is profit, not health care, and the pharmaceutical business) that have taught by example that profit trumps care. Corporate greed has hurt the most vulnerable in our society and challenged access to our basic rights. The collective wealth and corporate connections of Trump’s proposed cabinet requires that we remain vigilant and demand the protection of all Americans, especially minorities and those who cannot represent themselves.
I do not believe that the minority of Americans who voted for Donald Trump are racists, misogynists, anti-Semites and homophobes. I believe that much of the division is a result of fear. In order to heal, we must reverse this isolationism and embrace our shared experience as humans.
Please read through my Prescription for Changing the World, and do your share, donate what you can to one of these or your favorite non-profit organization. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Set down this paper and do it now.
A Prescription to Change the World (one issue at a time):
- Global warming: Eat a plant-based diet. Walk or ride a bike. Recycle. Reuse. Reduce. Join the Union of Concerned Scientists or 350.org. Donate 350.org.
- Reproductive Rights: Sign the Bill of Reproductive Rights. Support for the 1 in 3 Campaign. Donate Center for Reproductive Rights (reproductiverights.org).
- Racism: Listen. Talk to your children about racial inequality. Call out and reject any white privilege you witness/experience. Protest. Take action at Colorofchange.org. Donate: Southern Poverty Law Center (splcenter.org)
- LGBTQ+ Rights: Confront homophobia/transphobia when you see it. Speak out against bullying. Attend a rally. Donate Equality NC.
- Fake News: Fact check suspicious news (snopes.com, factcheck.org). Seek out unbiased news (NPR, PBS). Don’t retweet/share the fake news. Donate: NPR.org, PBS.org.
Wear a safety pin. Show others you are a safe place.