The Epidemic of the “I Know All” Expert: Mikhail Varshavski at TEDxMonteCarlo (Transcript)

Imagine what these companies make from IKA products that they’re able to pay these huge sums of money. Look, I get it. We live in a fast-paced world. We want quick answers and even faster results. But before you go on this desperate search for answers and shortcuts, let’s talk about what a true expert is.

A true expert not only looks at the current, most up-to-date scientific evidence, but also looks at history as a guide. How many times have you heard doctors go back and forth on the health benefits and risks of coffee, something we all drink every day?

In 1981, the New York Times published a study that said two cups of coffee increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. In 2017, we claimed that coffee extends your life. Doctors used to advocate smoking as a stress reliever. We used to believe that bloodletting, a.k.a letting a patient bleed out, was a way to cure an infection. This doesn’t mean that doctors are not smart. What this means is that expert opinion is and should be considered the lowest form of evidence. That is what our job as a true expert is: to explain that to the general population.

Take any PhD in this room and they’ll all tell you the same thing. The more years they’ve spent studying a subject, the more they realize they don’t know, the more questions you have, because the more questions you have, that’s the sign of intelligence.

Now, look, this isn’t just a theoretical discussion, where we’re going to talk about philosophical change and things of that nature. I’m going to have some practical tips for you as well.

Number 1: ask better questions. A doctor prescribes a treatment or tells you not to go for a treatment. Ask, “Hey, doc, why do I need these antibiotics? Do I even need these antibiotics?” When an IKA expert claims there’s a miracle cure for whatever ails you, ask how is it possible that there are millions of doctors across the world, whose sole mission, and it’s the same mission, to eradicate diseases and restore optimal health, don’t agree with them. Why is it the same five IKA experts you see appearing in documentaries, talking about doom and gloom from all the things that ail you.

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Second: understand basic research. Oftentimes these IKA experts will tout a single study, and try and convince you of their theories. Take the recent uproar of autism and childhood immunizations. This uproar started from a single study, with 12 subjects, which was done by a doctor who’s been discredited and lost their license. And yet, children are dying. So it’s your job to be aware of this research. And here I’ll tell you how to do that.

Know that the best form of research is a meta-analysis. It’s a combination of studies, not just one, which allows for the decreased likelihood of chance and bias within the results. Note that newer studies are not necessarily better than older studies. Know that studies that focus on disease markers are not nearly as good as studies that focus on outcomes and developments of disease. And no matter what media tells you is a breakthrough, there is no single study that will influence the field of medicine enough to change the standard of care. It can guide us, it can put itself into the context of the entire body of evidence. to allow us to figure out what the true results are and what they mean.

And lastly, third: do not write off health professionals who say “I don’t know.” Instead, what you should infer is that this doctor is self-aware, this doctor acknowledges scientific limitations. And most importantly, this doctor is not interested in slimming your wallet. Let’s move away from the era of juice cleanses, and move to an era we judge doctors not by the answers, but by the quality of their questions. Do not be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Thank you.

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