The Religion of Science, Medicine, and Public Health

I love the scientific method. When practiced rigorously and understanding the many shortcomings of the great apes running the experiments we call Homo Sapiens, it is a powerful tool for investigating physical reality.

One could argue that doubt or skepticism is at the heart of science. Given our human tendency to misperceive, our flawed memories, our personal biases, how can we be sure what we see and believe is factual? The scientific method attempts to get around our human tendency to distort things with our hearts, minds, and senses and get closer to reality.

But many today treat science as a religion. By extension, many can treat doctors, scientists, and public health officials like priests or even Gods, simply excepting their word without question. Perhaps they assume that because science is based on skepticism, they no longer need to be skeptical about a diagnosis from their doctor or what a public health official says on television. They stop asking important questions.

Many of you have heard me share the story about an experiment done with monkeys and bananas in a cage. The above Wired article sheds a little light on how this tendency of our fellow great ape cousins is very much still alive and well in ourselves, even within the scientific, healthcare, and public health fields.

Now I want to be very, very clear. I am not saying scientists, healthcare workers, public health officials, or anyone else are trying to manipulate or deceive you. I have a good friend, Jai Ram, who works at the CDC, one of the sweetest people I know. As I have said before, everyone is doing the best they can.

However, I am pointing out human traits present in public officials, healthcare workers, scientists, doctors, journalists, and all our species; we need to remain skeptical and keep asking questions because of these traits. Skepticism, questioning, doubting are powerful tools that we can use to help us navigate an ever-expanding sea of information and sometimes misinformation. 

Can you go too far with skepticism? Like with any tool, yes. So my advice is to develop a healthy balanced skepticism. How do I know how much skepticism is too much? Wake up and stay present, always. It is our desire to go to sleep spiritually that causes us to stop asking questions.

-Douglas Johnson E-RYT 500, YACEP