This I Believe

Geewananda - Longmont, Colorado
Entered on April 5, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: question, science

This I believe,

When I was growing up, my grand father advised me not to believe. Yes, he said that I should not believe things just because they a) are in print, b) were heard over the radio – we did not have TV back then, c) were attributed an important person. Now, that is against the theme of this program. Not quite, let me explain. First, you have to decide if the information you got is important to you, or concerns you. If it dose not, just let it go. Why waste time and effort chasing something that has no value. Do not share it with others, either. You could be wasting their time as well or spreading misinformation. If it is important to you, then it becomes a serious matter worth investing time and effort. You should be able to decide it for yourself if it is a fact or not. If it is a fact, there is nothing to believe – like the earth is round, well almost round, or Pi is 22/7. If you had any doubt about them, there are plenty of ways to verify that. “But Grandpa”, I asked “how do I make such big decisions?” “Ha, Ha, my dear, that is why you need a good education”, he said, shaking his finger. Grandpa was long gone, but I have not forgotten that laugh and I followed his advice all my life and I believe in not believing.

I must admit, at times, this got me into trouble. For example, my interpretation of tooth fairy did not go well with my friends, or their parents. But, eventually I became a scientist. I credit Grandpa and my curiosity. Now, I do not have to believe things. If in doubt, I know how to find the facts. Not just one side of the story, all aspects of it, and make my own decisions. There are a lot of information out there – apparently, a lot of people must have had Grandpas like mine. But, you must know how to find the facts and, more importantly, have an open mind to weigh all sides of the issue, and be able to draw conclusions without bias. If facts are not available, I can design an experiment to find out the facts.

It is true, that some experiments are beyond my reach. And then there are things that we cannot experiment on. The human mind for example. When conducting clinical trials for testing some new drugs, the test subjects are given the drug or a dummy pill so that the researcher can find out if the drug really works. This information is kept from both the researcher and the test subject until the study is un-blinded at the conclusion. Some of the test subjects that got the dummy pill also act as if they got the drug, and it is called the placebo effect. The placebo effect can be very significant. Sometimes close to 100 %. So, what does it tell us? The people that believed that they got the drug, but really did not get it, were cured. The mind is a powerful thing. Well, if that is the case, is it OK to sell sugar pills labeled as medication and expect the placebo effect to take care of the ailments? If we could do that, solving our healthcare problems would be a synch, right? The answer is a definite no – it is illegal. On the other hand, what if we did the same trial with infants only, who had no clue of what is going on. That would be illegal too, but if we did that trial, I bet there would be no placebo effect. We would find only the experimental variability as with testing in animals. So, are we learning to have this placebo effect as we grow into adults? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? If I am sick, I personally would rather have the real drug not the placebo. I agree with my Grandpa. Even though believing can be a powerful force, it can work either way. So why take a chance? Believe me, I believe in not believing.