Carl Sagan was famous for teaching people to maintain a healthy skepticism in life, to develop their own “baloney detection kit.” I agree. One nuance I’d like to add, though, is that skepticism does not need to equal cynicism. We all know the cynical critics who tend to dismiss everything. They’re not much fun to be around for long periods of time. What’s more difficult, but I would argue more desirable, is to maintain a healthy skepticism while preserving a more cheerful outlook on life.
Here are the facts. Medical science is ever changing. Physicians know this but the general public often does not. In every medical school, some seasoned professor warns, “half of what you’ll be learning in medical school will eventually be proven false.” That may or may not be an overstatement, but the general point is valuable.
Science is only as good as its methods and its practitioners, and its practitioners are human. Equally relevant is that not all “good” studies have an equal shot at publication and, therefore, dissemination via the press. Positive results trump negative results. Furthermore, studies are notoriously hard to replicate. The same study done twice often leads to different results—a vexing reality. (See this recent piece in the Economist for further elaboration on this interesting conundrum.)