Readers’ Forum: The dangers of ignoring experts

A student studies on campus. This Readers’ Forum author Mikaila Sass believes people should be looking to reliable sources when gathering information.

On May 30, 2023, The Daily Universe published an opinion piece that highlights the unsettling trend of distrusting science and expert opinions. The piece addresses concerns over the validity of FDA drug approval and advocates that individuals should “be doing our own research.”

It seems like an innocent phrase, maybe even good advice. After all, science is founded on asking questions and researching solutions. However, in research, methods matter. Where is your information coming from?

Unfortunately, such “research” is often a quick search on an internet browser tuned to your opinions and preferences. This will not provide unbiased results, instead showing content closely related to positions you already hold and articles you have already read.

Research cannot come from consuming all opinions and claims without regard for their validity or source. An influencer’s, celebrity’s or friend’s opinion on science and medicine does not carry the same weight as an expert who has spent years gathering concrete, reproducible evidence to support their findings. Claiming otherwise is irresponsible. 

Another pitfall of discussions surrounding medicine is the idea that natural medicines are safer than the many side effects listed on FDA approved drugs. Natural medicines also have side effects and can pose a danger to those who take them regardless of dosage or correct usage.

The medications available to us today are often derived from natural compounds, which have been fine-tuned to improve their efficacy and reduce their side effects. Unlike FDA-approved medications, alternative remedies are not subjected to rigorous studies to ensure that their benefits outweigh their risks.

The FDA website outlines the requirements for a drug to be approved for use, including lab and animal testing, and multiple clinical trials of increasing sizes to ensure its effectiveness and safety. Because alternative medicines bypass FDA approval, they are not subject to this same level of scrutiny, allowing them to be sold with little proof of their efficacy or safety. 

Much of the distrust of scientists and medicine stems from a concern that businesses pay for certain, profitable outcomes. However, not all scientists are associated with companies. Many are in academic labs, which contribute largely to the studies that result in useful medications.

It is imperative to recognize that just as pharmaceutical companies care about money, so do the companies that sell alternative and natural remedies, and without the tight regulations of the FDA, they have little incentive to test their products thoroughly. As such, they are far more likely to be placebos or to cause more harm than help. 

With so much influence from money, how can you tell what is reliable? This is where it becomes important to truly do your own research.

Scientific papers, published in reliable peer-reviewed journals, require scientists to declare any conflicts of interest and all sources of funding. You can see who is supporting the research, and who might be benefiting financially from a certain result. There are resources to ensure that you are finding reliable information, published by those with appropriate credentials for the studies they are conducting. You should be looking out for your health, and that means looking to reliable sources for information and taking an active role in working with your doctor to meet your individual needs.

Mikaila Sass

Port Orchard, Washington

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