Today, we are inundated with so much information from a huge variety of sources. Sadly, not all that information is real or correct, and it is becoming increasingly harder to tell real information from fake information. Jairek Robbins sat down with Alex Ruani (PhD), an expert who has been helping professionals to cut through all the loads of available information in order to sieve out what is legitimate and what isn’t. She is also a doctoral student currently doing research on the same at the University College London.
Here are the highlights of their riveting discussion.
What is the pyramid of scientific evidence?
At the very bottom of the pyramid is anecdotal evidence, evidence that you really shouldn’t pay any attention to because its authenticity hasn’t been verified. Next above is test tube trials, then animal studies, followed by human trials, systematic reviews, meta-analysis and so on.
Interestingly, the pyramid of evidence doesn’t have a level called “Oscar winning actress” or Instagram influencers, or stuff like that.
So, how do we give people a filter so that when something is coming through, they can tell that it is legitimate information or fake information? This needs to be given a lot of attention because the health of your family, your finances and so many parts of your daily life depend on your ability to decipher real from fake information.
One of the filters that you can use to check whether information is real or fake is to ask yourself what would happen if that information were true. For example, some people claim that garlic has antiviral properties, and they therefore concluded that eating garlic can kill coronavirus particles. To establish whether this is true, ask yourself what would happen if it was true that garlic could kill coronaviruses. If it were true, nobody would have died due to coronavirus since people eat lots of garlic on a near daily basis!
Jairek: Another thing that I learned from reading Ray Dallio’s book is that you can sort real from fake information by getting a second opinion from another competent source, for example by consulting another doctor regarding a diagnosis or treatment plan recommended by your doctor.
It also helps to look at the foundation beneath the information that you are receiving. For example, if you consult a doctor who works for a pharmaceutical company, you don’t expect that doctor to recommend anything other than pills, surgery and other forms of treatment that are in line with their foundation. However, when you visit a naturopathic doctor about the same health condition, they are likely to recommend a more holistic approach since their background and the research that they base off of points in that direction. You should therefore interrogate the background of the person giving you information so that you can decide to what extent you can rely on that information since one person’s truth may not be another professional’s truth.
Another thing I would add, and I learned this from interacting with a friend working with the CDC, we met on a cruise and she revealed that she was on her way to Ecuador because her research had led her to develop the hypothesis that Ecuadorian soil was the most nutrient-rich so if she ate food grown in that soil for a while, her body could find a way of resetting so that it can regenerate cells normally. If she succeeds, Americans may make her write 50 books on how eating Ecuadorian food is the cure for all diseases and we might see people shipping Ecuadorian soil to their backyards in order to grow stuff that they can eat. However, in there lies a problem because you may not have paused to interrogate whether in your circumstances, at that material time, it is plausible that eating food grown in Ecuadorian soil might be beneficial to you or not. And, getting one or two more experts on the matter to weigh your logic could help you filter whether the information you have is true or not.
Also, if you hunt down a person who has a ton of experience in dealing with the problem (such as a medical condition) you have, that person’s experience massively shifts the odds in favor of a favorable outcome regardless of what the research or data says. I learned this from talking to a doctor whose mother had a nasty type of cancer whose mortality rate was over 80%, but this doctor found that at a certain hospital, those statistics were flipped and more than 80% of the people with that cancer survived. This reality was because the doctors there had massive experience in treating patients with that particular form of cancer. The lesson here is that you can apply the filter of running information by a specialist so that you can get an opinion on how accurate or otherwise that information is.
In relation to what you just said there, Jairek, I would like to add that people should never follow one scientist or one group of scientists. For example, consider the topic of climate change. A large group of scientists around the world agree that global warming is happening and human behavior could be playing a part in it. However, there is a smaller group of scientists, and there is a Nobel prize in there, and they don’t believe that climate change is happening. They say there is no global warming and what is happening is the natural planetary evolution. This shows how important it is to view things from different perspectives because no matter how many PhDs you have, your view point can be challenged.
Another example I am going to give regards how to enhance athletic performance. A group of scientists in the UK, Europe and Australia got together and performed a number of experiments that led them to conclude that athletic performance could be legally enhanced in a certain way. However, a group of scientists in the US didn’t agree with them and had their own research pointing to a ketogenic diet (low carb, high fat diet) as enabling athletes to perform better for longer. When the two groups of scientists got together, an amazing thing happened. The lead scientist who was advocating for the ketogenic diet admitted that the keto diet doesn’t work to enhance athletic performance! So, it doesn’t matter how many PhDs you have or how many scientific papers you have published. Your opinion will not always be right on everything.
Thank you Alex for hanging out with us. If I could summarize our little chat here, I would say number one, slow down. Number two, find a filter to sift through stuff. And number three, find multiple people or sources that you can talk to about stuff, and number four, see if you can find that place where special things do happen and be curious to know why things happen the way they do. Finally, we are all unique humans, so for one group to say that this works for everybody, question such an assertion until you arrive at the truth. Get yourself mentally inoculated against fake information in the same way as you get a vaccine shot against the flu or other diseases!
To Your Success,