Eamon Brown

About Eamon Brown

Eamon is a Public Health professional, with an interest in the Clinical sciences arena. He has previously worked in Sleep & Respiratory Physiology, Ophthalmology (eye infection research), Neurological clinical trials and Neurophysiology technology. His latest endeavors consisted of looking at and researching post-operative outcomes of patients with Upper Gastrointestinal cancers, leading to the creation of the Hospital based Upper Gastrointestinal Outcomes (HUGO) database, at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the wider Sydney Local Health District. He has previously been awarded a commonwealth scholarship to study a Bachelor of Medical Science at the University of Technology, Sydney (2011), a Master of Public Health, from the University of Sydney (2015). His work has been featured in the Sun Herald, The Public Health Association of Australia Intouch newsletter & ABC Radio.

The Science of Evidence – Part two: Evidence vs popular opinion

Approx Reading Time-11The world of science is beset by a stupid problem. Popular opinion espoused by popular people often takes precedence over actual evidence.

 

 

 

We would have all heard of them. You know, Pete Evans, Gwyneth Paltrow and even Belle Gibson etc. The popular people of society. But what happens when the popular people of society, start commenting on things they may not necessarily know anything about? When does the claim “backed by scientific evidence” really stack up if everyone is making this claim? When does influence over a population of people really cause more harm than good?

Is it that what they, the popular people, are commenting on in society does no harm but also has no benefit?

I think that people spending money they don’t necessarily have because they are influenced by a role model like Paltrow to drink goats’ milk to rid the body of heavy metals, is in fact harmful for those individuals. Particularly when there is scientific evidence to suggest that, while toxic metals are in fact toxic as there is no mechanism for their removal from the body, in relatively small quantities they are harmless – and you could be causing harm by ingesting large amounts of goat’s milk.

We are now seeing the rise of people because of their Instagram posts, their Facebook posts and their YouTube accounts, etc. Their power comes from their mass media following, and with social media now at the fore, access to these individuals has never been easier. Should there be a slip up in their reputations, it is good to see that we do react, such as in the case of Belle Gibson, who made false claims about curing her terminal brain cancer through diet. But the simple fact remains, we believed her, we bought her books and downloaded her app, without asking important questions like:

“What grounds does Belle Gibson have to influence others (perhaps even people who are suffering from brain cancer)?”; or:

“Why does having brain cancer give you the power to influence others?”

So where does this come from, and why does listening to educated professionals go out the window?

We all like to be promised the world. However, when it is not delivered to us, we beat up the person who made the (broken) promise rather than ourselves for listening to our instincts and trusting their evidence.

So then, what is the solution to this problem of mass media distorting facts?

Well, all you need to do is look at the facts. Look at what we know and the sources these pseudoscientists are quoting. Think for yourself: “Is this really the case? Is this honesty without bias, without the person making the claims having a financial interest to do so?” When you start asking these questions rather than agreeing with everything you hear, you start to realise that, sometimes, those promises being made aren’t what they seem, and you expect no return for any effort you place on them.

While toxic metals are in fact toxic as there is no mechanism for their removal from the body, in relatively small quantities they are harmless – and you could be causing harm by ingesting large amounts of goat’s milk.

Years ago, a public health campaign came out with a lispy pelican, called Slip, Slop, Slap, and it has helped to reduce skin cancer by a large number in this country. However, skin cancer in Australia is a leading cause death, and it is one of the most horrific, painful and scariest ways to go.

Pete Evans has claimed in the past that the nanoparticles inside sunscreen are doing us harm, but where is his evidence? He is stating that nanoparticles can get lodged in our brains, and cross the all-important blood brain barrier (BBB). Firstly, yes Pete, something that is 10 times the size of an atom and yet smaller than some molecules and which is still not visible through the microscope can cross the semipermeable membrane that is the barrier between our blood and brain. The primary purpose of this membrane is to ensure blood and organisms several 100 times larger do not get into our brain, such as bacteria or viruses. Things the size of atoms or on the nano-scale, do often pass through, and pass back through this membrane, causing us no harm or becoming toxic in the brain. Zinc, magnesium and titanium, found in sunscreen, have not been found to be toxic to humans, so there is no evidence to suggest that they build up over time.


Also on The Big Smoke


I spoke of claims by people like Gwyneth Paltrow that goats’ milk could get rid of toxic metallic chemicals. For some reason, things that are toxic seem to be the primary concern to these people. Part of this may be: since it is hard to prove something is toxic, if they can lead you to believe something is toxic and the doctors do not have a mechanism for testing its toxicity (this is technology yet to be developed), then really, what is to say they are not correct?

In science, we call this uncertainty and it can be quantified.

So really, as people we have a choice. We can either listen to a chef, an actress or a fraudulent, compulsive liar and stop using sunscreen and drink goats’ milk to try to rid ourselves of “metals” which might not be causing us any harm, and perhaps increase our likelihood of developing skin cancer.

Or, we can listen to the evidence provided to us from professionals that have dedicated their lives to understanding the world in which we live, so that we can prevent skin cancer from developing and live fuller, happier lives, remembering one key thing:

Questioning the popular opinion – as well as the basis and types of evidence that support what the popular people claim – is allowed, and should be done more often.

 

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