Thursday, June 19, 2014

Our Systematic Abdication of Personal Accountability

When I saw the news that Dr. Oz had been pulled to Capitol Hill for questioning yesterday, I was surprised.  I couldn’t imagine what government post he might be undergoing inquiry for.  It seems my initial line of thinking was misguided.  The reason he was summoned to Capitol Hill for an inquisition was because he touted a green coffee bean diet product on his TV show which has upset the government and senators are asking him why he promotes weight loss products on his show that lack scientific support.  Let me restate what happened here: a senate panel was convened to grill a TV personality over what he chooses to promote on his TV show.
Several issues leap to mind as I process this news event:
  • First of all, there actually is scientific support for the efficacy of green coffee bean to reduce both blood glucose and weight (Life Extension Magazine).  So, why exactly is this conversation taking place at all? 
  • Why is taxpayer money being spent to intimidate the first amendment right of a talk show personality? 
  • Why do we perpetuate the notion that data is the only or the right means of validation?
  • Why do we continue to abdicate our personal accountability to data?
I look at the many forms of ancient medicine that have and continue to provide great benefit to those who take advantage, particularly those who tried and exhausted the known world of modern medicine only to find relief or cure from ancient medicine.  8 Ancient Beliefs Now Supported by Modern Science.
  • Why do we continue to perpetuate the notion that data provides the unequivocal truth about anything? 
Data is neither omniscient (all knowing) nor is it omnipotent (all powerful, God-like).  Anyone who has written a research paper knows you can get data to say anything you want.  Data is a tool that can be useful in the hands of thoughtful people who understand what to measure, how to measure it, and understand that correlation does not mean causation.   Written in 1954, the book “How to Lie with Statistics” by Darrell Huff continues to be relevant.
  • Why do we continue to abdicate our personal accountability to data?
Regularly the medical world publishes clinical research (often paid for by the drug manufacturer) showing the benefit of xyz drug only to recant years later after people die from using the drug. 

We put our blind faith in numbers and in science and we eschew our intuition and our personal responsibility to be accountable for our choices and our actions.  A number of years ago, my husband and I were trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, so we went to a fertility clinic.  As a regular part of their protocol, they gave my husband a drug to clean his reproductive system of pathogens as a prophylactic (just in case) measure.  We found out that the drug had a big and possibly devastating reaction with another very common drug my husband was already taking.  General practitioners knew about the adverse reaction when combining these drugs, but the fertility doctors didn't.  The clinic has since added this knowledge to their prescreening, but the interesting point here is that my husband really did not want to take the prophylactic drug.  He resisted.  He is rarely sick and doesn’t like the idea of taking a drug just as a precaution, but we were assured that it was a statistically insignificant risk to take.  The data said it was an insignificant risk.  If your known world doesn’t include awareness of the severe risks associated with certain drug combinations, then apparently one can provide “statistical” assurances.
Too much focus on numbers also causes us to manage activity rather than outcome, and lulls us into a false sense of security.  The classic example is the call center that focuses on closing customer calls quickly, the goal being volume.  How many calls did you close today?  Anyone who has suffered through a call center conversation knows that when “number of calls closed” is the metric, the employee on the other end of your call is not focused on your pain or problem, he or she simply wants to get to a conclusion (any conclusion) as quickly as possible and end the call.  Check the box.  Update the data: calls_closed = (calls_closed + 1).  Next!  The quality of the interaction, the resolution of your problem, your opinion about whether or not you will continue to do business with this company, do not enter into the equation.  The actual outcome of this behavior is detrimental to the business’s bottom line, but they blithely celebrate their high close rate as they continue to edge the business into decline. 

How many of you have worked on a program enacted to support someone else’s reputation that had no real impact for the benefactors of the program, yet you were still required to produce data?  So you did produce data, supportive data of course because you didn’t want to risk your job.  The results were manufactured, the glossies retouched, and the executives pleased.  Then everybody had a party and moved on to the next project.  Ever been there? 
When we accept the idea that the only real truth is what the data tells us, and we no longer have to be accountable for our choices and actions, then we become lulled into an unconscious society.  Unconscious behavior is both ripe for manipulation, and has the potential to be grossly inhumane.

I have no desire for that type of world.  It reminds me of the stories I heard when I was young about "mother Russia."  Wake up!  Be accountable for understanding the bigger picture, and digging for the real meaning.  Be accountable for your choices and your actions. 
I was born in the 60s, and while my parents weren’t hippies, I did grow up with a focus on macrobiotic food, vitamins, spiritualism, a healthy dose of suspicion of too much government, and a very high sense of personal accountability.  When we rely too heavily on things outside of ourselves to guide and direct our actions, we abdicate personal accountability, and we relegate ourselves to being controlled. 

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