Not Even Asked Questions

Sometimes when I teach, I get a little annoyed when my students don’t ask questions that would clarify any concerns they might have, even though I know they want to ask them. So I invented a Hypothetical Student who asks for them. 

 
Hypothetical Student is a bit of a suck-up. This Hypothetical Student is far more belligerent. She’s my kinda gal.
 
What the shit? Are you actually a doctor?

Nah.

Are you a scientist?
Nup.
 
Did you even do science at school?
Yeah nah. Not a day of maths or science since the end of Year 10 in 2001 – to my great shame.
 
So what qualifies you as a wellness blogger?
Great question. My qualifications in science are equal to – if not better than degrees/courses offered at the places where a lot of wellness bloggers did their studies, such as Endeavour College or the New York-based Institute for Integrative Medicine:
  • My undergraduate degrees in Drama and Education were competitive to get into, compared to most naturopathy/altmed degrees, some of which have no minimum ATAR cutoff and (most frighteningly) no IELTS/English language requirement for foreign students.
  • My degrees were grounded in evidence-based practice, and led to a job in which I have to maintain certain professional standards, and where my conduct is overseen not only my employer but by a College of Teachers who routinely perform criminal background checks and who have the power to prevent me from practicing. The same cannot be said for the professional associations of naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists or ‘wellness coaches’ – firstly because registration with peak professional bodies is not mandatory to practice, and secondly because the peak professional bodies themselves are not very good.
  • My degrees didn’t teach or endorse the idea that an extremely minute quantity of the substance making me sick, diluted millions of times into water, can cure me. Enough said.
Yeah, but Year 10 levels of science? You really think you can take on people like Mehmet Oz or Gillian McKeith or Nat Kringoudis with this paltry history?
You don’t need more than Year 10 levels of science or maths to know that homeopathy cannot work, or that chlorophyll does jack-shit inside the human gut, or that drinking an acidic substance like lemon juice or apple cider vinegar cannot ‘alkalise’ the body, or that the number of people who are saved by vaccines outstrips in an order of magnitude of billions the number of people apparently harmed by them, or that The Secret is hokey, or that reiki doesn’t work. (Holla to my homegirl Emily Rosa, who proved this when she was nine years old and is the youngest person to have a paper published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. If a nine year old doesn’t fall for that shit, neither should you, you dumbass.) The problem is that this stuff is so basically, fundamentally and obviously wrong, and because we are somehow all so bamboozled by a pretty face and an inappropriate use of the word ‘quantum’ we are all willing to forget stuff we covered in primary school. Or because we are too polite to say anything at family gatherings or when catching up with that person we went to school with who is telling us how to alkalise our bodies with apple cider vinegar.
 
So why do you – obvious jackass who didn’t care enough about science as a teenager to study it at school – care now?
  • Because people are dying now
  • Because, at heart, I am a boring old feminist with a mind for social justice and a desire for people who are suffering physically and emotionally to not be ripped off, given false hope, or forced to live their final days in agony. 
  • Because I think access to evidence-based treatment – regardless of age, gender, country of origin, socioeconomic status, religious orientation or sexuality – is a basic human right, and that these rights are being infringed upon by wealthy, politically-privileged people and corporations that make billions (yes) off unproven treatments.
  • Because language matters, and the erosion of the English language with weasel words and slavishness to sentimentality as emblematic of the pseudoscience crowd is a serious state of affairs.
  • Because I do not think informed choices can be made in the vacuum of knowledge created by “well, it worked for me!”, “big pharma is suppressing the truth” or “you don’t need a medical degree to cure cancer!” or in the momentary terror and irrationality brought on by a terminal diagnosis.
  • Because I potentially teach kids who could be harmed by choices made by parents who are scientifically illiterate like I am, and who might – in an hour of desperation – choose to use pseudoscience instead of real medicine.
  • Because I see the impact of chemotherapy every day on people who are still alive five, ten or even twenty years after their diagnosis: able to spend time with family, able to travel the world, able to see their grandchildren born (if ever, ahem).
So are you going to promise us love, light and soul-sista-girl-power, like the other wellness bloggers?
 
How much is Big Pharma paying you?
If Big Pharma could give me money that would be great. If you work for a pharmaceutical company, email me at theunwholesome@gmail.com and I will gladly accept all your wonderful pharma shill money. For the time being, I couldn’t get a cold bottle of tap water at a cafe for all I earn for my comments. 
 
So because you hate wellness, how obese are you? Are you eating McDonalds  now? Are you eating McDonalds in bed right now? 
A bit, no, never. I might hate wellness – the pursuit of never feeling even a tiny bit crummy or human by the worried rich and under-occupied – but I am all about health and the evidence-based means of attaining it. Like eating green things, limiting alcohol, not smoking, wearing sunscreen, not having risky unprotected sex, exercising, taking time off work when sick, getting preventative health checks, drinking fluoridated water, being immunised against contagious or potentially cancerous diseases, looking after mental health, avoiding risky extreme sports, driving safely or using public transport, having a safe and rewarding job, and limiting stress. You know – the stuff you can do without paying someone with an internet-issued ‘life coaching’ certification lots of money. Health. Bloody love it – and it should be inclusive, and not just for the Noosa-dwelling, kombucha-swilling, coffee enema-administering elites.
 
I am still not convinced by you. I frequently fall victim to appeals to authority. Who is smarter – and more qualified than you – who says all the same stuff?
Go start with people like Dr Ben GoldacreDr Edzard ErnstDr David GorskiDr Sue IeraciDr Steven NovellaDr Stephen BarrettDr Paul Offit, or Dr Harriet Hall. They are all real doctors who see real patients, and who have conducted real research. They are also much better communicators than I am. I mean it. Go read their stuff.
 
You can also check out my philosophical and feminist bae, Barbara Ehrenreich, who has done some mean sociological writing about the history of medicine and the impact of the positive thinking movement on cancer patients.
 
But all these wellness bloggers look incredible, and you literally look like one of the proles out of 1984. Why the hell should we listen to you over people who look healthy?
You don’t even go here. Go home.

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