According to Loren Collins, author of Bullspotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation, the one thing that skeptics and conspiracy theorists have in common is a conversion experience. This is the event or period in their lives that turned them into a ‘convert.’ The time when they adopted a new way of looking at the world. For some, it’s with a keen eye toward bullshit and for others, its with paranoia and conspiracy theories.
I certainly can’t speak for other skeptics but I’d like to tell you about my conversion experience. Some folks who know me well in the fitness and strength training realm may be surprised I ever had such an experience. They seem to think I was a born skeptic, bristling with knowledge and passion about strength training. Nothing of the sort. I used to believe absolutely ridiculous things. There was a period of time, in fact, that I believed that as you advanced in strength training, becoming stronger and stronger, and as your workouts became more and more intense, you required longer and longer rest periods to recover from exercise bouts. My understanding of recovery was in its infancy but why would I believe something so ludicrous? I had been convinced by very plausible-sounding information on the subject. I had been taken in by bullshit.
Around the year 2000, I became very ill. I began coughing constantly. Skip to x rays, a lung cancer scare, a biopsy, and a pulmonologist, and I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disorder. It began in my lungs but then became more systemic, resulting in skin sensitivity, photosensitivity, extreme fatigue, and bouts of muscle pain.
Needless to say, physical training of any kind became difficult. It was the least of my worries. There was one thing that could have, perhaps, stopped the disease in its tracks. Prednisone. Corticosteroids can be quite devastating to the body when taken long-term but when you are faced with an autoimmune disorder like sarcoid, they can be “just what the doctor ordered.” In fact, for some, although not everyone, a round of prednisone can stop the disease and send it into remission. The problem was that my pulmonologist was reluctant to treat me. He was convinced that if he just waited, my disease would go into remission by itself, as, despite the horrible fates of some sarcoid sufferers, most cases resolve naturally within a few years.
I was getting worse. My lungs were getting worse. My fatigue was getting worse. My doctor was the worst. He was engaged in a certain kind of bullshit. Let’s call it ignoring baseline information. This is something that goes on in the fitness industry as well but when it appears in a medical setting, the results can be deadly.
Once I found a new pulmonologist and got the medical records from the old doc, I found out that he had been writing these records while staring through rose-colored glasses. When I would tell him that I was barely able to work out, and my training had been cut down from several times a week to one at most, he wrote: “Patient feels fine, is able to exercise.” When one of my lung tests came back at 80% but still within normal he found that to be just hunky-dory because, after all, I was still breathing. He ignored the fact that my lung function was steadily declining and that my first test had shown extraordinary lung function above 100%, or in other words better than ‘normal.’ He ignored my baseline. He ignored my previous state of fitness and the previous state of my lungs, viewing it all in a vacuum as compared to the average person. He was bullshitting to justify his decision not to treat; to just wait for things to resolve. Meanwhile, I was suffering.
Things only got worse. I was down to 105 pounds. I suffered a terrible ear infection and then thrush. I was depressed. And still, this doctor would not prescribe the meds I needed. No matter what I told him, to him, everything was going to be just fine.
I rebounded a bit before finding a new pulmonologist, whence I discovered the bullshit of my old pulmonologist. My new doctor took one look at my records and my newest lung-function tests and asked why in the word I had never been treated. You tell me, I said. I told her what had been going on. She told me I was getting worse and that I should have been treated years ago. She immediately prescribed prednisone. I henceforth went into remission. In all, I had three rounds of prednisone before the disease finally seems to have gong permanently underground. I was left with allergies I had never had before and lungs that were a shadow of their former selves. But I was back.
If my doctor’s bullshit was the only bullshit in this story, then it would not have been much of a conversion. It was my own bullshit that helped forge me into the skeptic I am today. During those years of suffering, what I should have been doing and what I was doing were quite different things. Instead of insisting to my doctor that he should treat me, and being adamant about how horrible I felt, I was convinced I could fix things myself. Instead of finding a new doctor, I was my own doctor. I was desperate to believe in anything that could help me feel better. My mind was clouded with pain and fatigue.
During that period I tried all sorts of herbal remedies, convinced that the next one would be my salvation. I kept to a vegetarian diet. I turned down one blind alley after another. Everything I tried was steeped in bullshit. I was an easy victim of sundry wellness gurus and herbalists and this conviction that if the answer could not be found at a doctor’s office it could be found elsewhere only prolonged my suffering.
You might say that prednisone opened my eyes. Here was almost immediate relief. And old veterinarian I worked for used to say ‘nobody should die without the benefit of steroids.’ I agree. I was presented with what modern medicine could do when it worked right, and with the stark contrast between it and the alternative medicine I had been pursuing. It began to dawn on me how this bullshit had affected me and how it had taken my focus down the wrong paths and away from the correct solution. A skeptic was being born.
If you’re the worried-well, then it’s easy to complain about Big Pharma and to imagine that clean living will cure your aches and pains and prevent any real illness. But while folks like me may be skeptical about big medicine at times, we are even more skeptical of anything not founded on a scientific basis. The question I ask of you is, what will it take to convert you? Will you need to suffer needless pain for years? Will you be injured by bad training practices? Will you be duped out of your hard-earned money by the likes of a Food Babe, promising to save you from the toxins all around you? And, if converted, will you become a skeptic or will you become paranoid. I advise you to not wait to be converted by hard times. Convert now. Become a skeptic.
Critical Thinking Tip:
Always examine each of your beliefs individually. Never swallow a whole set of beliefs. That’s “falling for it hook, line, and sinker!”
“An idea is something you have. An ideology is something that has you.” – Morris Berman
Next: Bullshit and Facts