Misinformation outweighs truth and it’s vital we learn how to spot the difference. Your life could depend on it – literally!
Among the most important lessons we are all learning right now is how important it is to be able to successfully understand and evaluate the information that we are exposed to.
Information assessment is one of the most crucial skill sets when working with health in the modern world. To ensure that we are empowered to move forwards in alignment with our values we need to have access to information that can inform us of the possible outcomes of our choices.
We are right now being exposed to an incredibly excessive outpouring of information.
There is more incorrect information than correct information.
Incorrect information is far more dangerous than lack of information.
Recently we’ve seen an increasing number of people asking better questions, including asking for references and proof. This is a good trend but its not fast enough to protect most people yet.
Context and Bigger Picture
Developments in our information sharing technologies, and therefore access to information, have dramatically outpaced our skills and abilities to understand the information.
Most people have never learned how to investigate and evaluate an idea to determine the truthfulness or utility of it.
And right now when ideas are being disseminated at an incredibly rapid rate, and decisions made based on these ideas have more gravity than other times, it is more important than ever to be able to vet ideas, and assess their usefulness, evidence and applicability in our lives.
In a real time trans-global information sharing network, we could be evolving and developing trustworthy information and wisdom at an incredible rate, but we aren’t and one of the primary reasons that we aren’t, is lack of a skill set or method to do so determine whats true and whats not.
At Vital Ways Institute, in our continuing mission of sharing trustworthy healing, information, one of the first things we do to help others become great healers is teach them, how to evaluate information.
To begin we use 5 simple steps to gain a much better grasp of what we’re investigating:
When Opinions and fact are not being distinguished from one another by media and by individuals.
Headlines, Sources, I heard’s, they’re sayings, Levels of Evidence and an expert said…
Headlines don’t tell the story. But they’re often the only thing that people read and repeat. We have to read beyond headlines into the article.
Levels of Evidence
is a concept that demonstrates what our confidence is in an idea from 1-5 based on what we value. For example, level 1 to me, is when I see something repeated in my practice, hundreds of times. I feel very confident about that thing. If I read a scientific report that is a basically a cell level, with conditions so removed from a human that they are unlikely to have any relationship to people, I’d say thats level 5, very weak support.
I heard.OR They’re saying…
is often what people preface their current claims about. You know what I mean-People may say-I heard that sunlight causes cancer and we should all slather toxic sunscreen on ourselves if we ever plan to go outside. I heard is not even on the levels of evidence scale. On its own, its worthless. Taking this one step deeper.
Always Find the Source
If we hear an ‘I heard that….oranges are a good source of vitamin c’, we can ask the most important first question-From whom? whats the source. Knowing the source is first step. If the source is unknown, we are unable to evaluate. If the source is known its a helpful idea, to see if the source has any credibility at all. If not, then we can decide to go deeper with the investigation or not, but most often not. No source listed-Then that’s a bad sign.
What if the source is an highly experienced?
Then we proceed to the 5 steps below. An expert has the same requirements to show trustworthy evidence as anyone else. Covered more below.
Vital Ways Institute 5 Steps to Calling BS, or hopefully to Learning a New Valuable Idea
- Who is the author? If we can’t find out who the author is, as no one person or people took responsibility for it, then we take that as a likely sign and indication that the source material is untrustworthy. If we know who the author is, we investigate them a bit: What is the author’s experience, history and stated perspectives? If we know the person’s biography, we can get a sense of why they think what they think. Did they get their ideas from working with people, or just from reading books which is called derivative information, or did they get it from dream time or did they just pull it out of thin air?
*A serious problem is that a lot of people ‘pad’ their resume with exaggerated claims. So, as in all things, we should remain aware and open that they may be falsely representing something.
- What is their claim specifically? Are they saying a specific thing leads to another thing, which is the basis for most claims? If so, did they operationalize their claim-4 of 5 herbalists surveyed prefer Chamomile infusion, to peppermint infusion. Or did they make a less specific claim-Herbalists prefer chamomile to peppermint.
- What is the support or justification for their claim? What is their evidence for their claim and does it match an evidence type that we find trustworthy?
As an example, if an author uses scientific research to back up their claims, but upon examination we see that the trial is not generalizable to humans than that is useful to know.
And if they’ve seen 6000 clients and took good case notes of all interventions, and base their claims on these results, and we can see and assess these results, AND we value this way of learning ideas, than we may trust their claim more.
And if they used a plant meditation to achieve their belief, and we don’t think that plant meditations are useful sources of information, then we may trust their claim less.
If we think that people who have clinical experience have more useful data, then we may trust what comes out of clinical people’s experience more than those that don’t.
*The point here is not to tell you what your personal types of proof are, but rather to facilitate an awareness of what to look for.
- What’s our evidence to support or deny their ideas? We have our own experience. How does our experience match what they’re saying? If we have a lot of experience, then we are better able to understand their information in the context of what we already know. If we have little, than this step is less useful.
- Now we can choose where to put their claim. Things aren’t necessarily true or false. Ideas fall into a range from very trustworthy and useful, to completely false. Many claims are unable to be completely assessed without a more deep dive, so they will exist in the middle of the range where we won’t use it, or dismiss it. Things in the middle of the range, neither accepted or rejected, are placed there until more information is known to help us move it in either direction.
Elderberry: Does it Increase Cytokine Storm? Vital Ways Institute Investigates…
If vetted through our 5 steps above would be put in the category or not useful now, and likely never to be, but if information should change, we can move it.
- A well meaninged person posted warnings why Elderberry wasn’t to be used for the virus we are experiencing.
- The claim clearly stated in an exhaustive paper that the use of Elder could worsen the cytokine storm that may result of coronavirus infection.
- Her reasoning and support was described as from a few research trials of rat cells, wherein a couple of immune cell signaling molecules were investigated and found to increase when exposed to Elderberry. The extrapolation is that since certain cytokines in a healthy rat cell in a lab were changed in a way that is directionally similar to the way those same cytokines are raised in an extreme medical condition, then elder would possibly or likely do that to a person in late stage pneumonia. There are several illogical leaps here. But before we even get there, lets mention that our first question at Vital Ways Institute is always, how many cases have you seen where has occurred. The answer is 0. It has never happened, OK-now for the sake of helping us understand it better, lets investigate some other parts:
- One, cytokines are not the problem in cytokine storm. They’re a result, and a middle step of an imbalanced immune system that cannot clear an infection, nor turn off when it is supposed to. This based on several factors unrelated to cytokines including lack of redox co-factors, like Vit C, Glutathione and others.
- Two, elderberry is probably more anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant due to its abundant phenols, that have a lot of scientific backing. So the author of the paper selected a small slice of the available data, and not all of it. It actually benefits redox deficiencies so would probably help-But not to any appreciable level as herbs overall are much more gentle.
- Three, Herbalists won’t be working with people in late stage pneumonia, lung failure, and systemic sepsis-like stage of this issue, which is when the cytokine storm happens. The person will be hospitalized and very near death. Outside of a hospital they will not likely survive regardless of any non medicalized intervention can do. There is a time that mainstream medicine is the best choice, and extreme emergency events like accidents and end stage immune crisis are some of those events.
- Four, related to two, is that when science splices and dices, and cuts up reality, to try to investigate a very small subsection of it, they do so in extremely controlled conditions in order to isolate very specific variables. In the case of a rat cell, the variables that make it a rat cell in a lab, combined with the limitation of only studying a couple of markers compared to the hundred or so that should be, makes for ungeneralizeable information. The logical leap is trying to be over a wide swath of confounding variables, and dissimilar base comparisons. In other words, rat cell line, in lab, with elder dumped on it, increasing an inflammatory cytokine, does not equal, sick human body, with extreme advanced immune response, taking elderberry orally, will increase same cytokine profile only, which will worsen the prognosis.
- There are many more leaps, inferences, and fallacious bits here in, but hopefully you get the point by now.
Now, if you had just read the headline-Elderberry increases cytokine storm. Would you stop using Elderberry even though its been in use for thousands of years a cold and flu remedy? Now, what if you knew, the inference that created the headline, and the evidence? Would you now stop using it? Thats what digging deeper does do dependently doesn’t it?
Remember a Few Simple Questions Can Make a Lot of Difference
- Who’s saying it?
- Whats the claim exactly. Can it be operationalized so we have precision and can measure it?
- What the evidence? How many humans experienced this?
Result: Please use Elderberry in your immune supportive formulas as long as you don’t have an preexisting autoimmune condition because, even though it won’t increase cytokine storm issues, it can exacerbate a completely different condition on occasion.
To be a critical thinker, is to always be open to new information-We never close our minds to possibilities. When we reach step 5 above with a certain claim, and we assign that claim a place on our spectrum of trustworthy to not trustworthy, we don’t remain fixed in that position, if new information surfaces that will alter our placement of it. We are always open and flexible, but clear to identifying what the current position is and th Save e support or lack thereof that exists.
With these 5 steps we can go very far into understanding things. With practice these steps become easier and easier. Even just calling these to mind while reading a news article, we soon realize that we are much better able to critically examine it.
Using steps 1-5 above, we can dramatically improve our ability to quickly assess new information.
The most common thing that gets in way of our effective understanding are biases. A bias is something that will reduce our ability to make a clear assessment of the data by being a factor unrelated to evidence, that increases or decreases our belief in something. We all have biases. We cover this extensively in our classes.
What we find particularly strange right now, is that people are broadcasting a very common bias that should make us question things more rather than accept them. This bias is the
On Good Authority Bias:
People are referencing their expert, as proof, rather than saying what the actual evidence is. An ‘expert’ so called is not proof. Only evidence that supports or refutes a claim is proof.
This well known bias has been discussed ever since the ancient Greeks. They coined the phrase:
Nuillius in verba-On No One’s Word
This is the Latin rallying cry for critical thinkers everywhere. Experts are people who have more experience, and knowledge on a subject, but it doesn’t mean we should accept their points without evidence.
As Carl Sagan, a famously critical, critical thinker, said that every citizen should have a baloney detection kit, and he famously shared that All claims require the same standards of evidence, regardless of how famous, or popular or experienced the author. Basically, show me your proof, he said.
So, in this time friends, as health misinformation can kill us, I encourage you to dig deeply into any ideas before you act on them or share them with others.
Wishing you increased abilities to cut through the baloney, and find the useful needles in the mountainous haystacks of misinformation. If you want to be part of a community of people who values this as much as you do, then we welcome you to join us at Vital Ways Institute,
To clarity and truth,