This is especially evident in nearly any type of scientific discovery. Examples include everything from Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation (1686) to Alfred Wegener’s theory of continental drift in the 1900s, and, in more recent times, Linus Pauling’s advocacy of vitamin C to Prof. Jim Oschman’s work on energy medicine.
Granted, a certain measure of skepticism can be healthy. We can’t latch onto every new idea that pops out of someone’s head or makes headlines in the National Enquirer. But, we can’t shut our minds so tightly we refuse to even consider the possibility that maybe – just maybe – we don’t know everything or that our long-held beliefs are wrong.
Yet, I see this attitude every day. People rail against a new movie, even though it hasn’t been released yet and they haven’t seen it. They argue the validity of the ideas presented in a new book but, when pressed, admit they haven’t read it. How many times have you heard “I don’t have to read it to know it’s just crap”?
When it involves a book or film, it doesn’t really matter much. The worst that will happen is that we’ll miss something we might have liked.
But when it comes to scientific exploration – and particularly to health and wellness issues – we risk imprisoning ourselves in outmoded and potentially harmful mindsets and denying ourselves and society the benefits of true progress.
As a doctor of chiropractic, I’ve witnessed this resistance to new thinking firsthand for decades. It doesn’t matter how much research is conducted that shows chiropractic to be safe and effective for all people (and NOT just for low back pain in adults!), a portion of the population still labels it “quackery.”
Most of these people have never been to a chiropractor or even known anybody who has (other than the apocryphal story of Uncle Charley’s friend Joe whose wife went to a DC one time and was hurt). I doesn’t matter. They refuse to open their minds even a crack to allow in new ideas. They’re the same ones who believed the world was flat despite the curved horizon or who ridicule acupuncture as “voodoo” medicine.
What’s even more mind-boggling – and unsettling – is that so many medical professionals fall into that same “flat earth” category. Unless research promises a “cure” by drugs or surgery, it isn’t worthy of scientific consideration.
It’s not surprising that part of the resistance is rooted in economics. Thirty years ago, Dr. Robert Forman of the University of Toledo noted: “Treatment modalities that are not interesting theoretically or that do not offer promise of prestige for the physician-researcher or profits to corporations are not likely to be extensively promoted in the medical world… One wonders how many potentially valuable medical discoveries are being overlooked because they are too simple and not profitable enough.” (Medical Hypotheses, Volume 7, Number 8, 1981, pp. 1009-1017).
To me, though, what’s most disturbing is that chiropractors and other alternative health care practitioners aren’t immune to this closed-minded attitude. When new ideas of energy healing or the neurological impact of subluxations are brought up, some DCs from both the extreme right and left of the profession act as though they’re being personally attacked. They can’t (or won’t) even examine the ideas to see if they might have validity. Instead, they’d rather barricade themselves behind what they already “know” to be true. They don’t even seem to recognize that this is exactly the same thing MDs and other critics have been doing to chiropractic for the past century.
French scientist Jules Henri Poincaré, who worked on everything from the theory of relativity to pure mathematics, nailed it when he stated: “Doubt everything or believe everything: these are two equally convenient strategies. With either we dispense with the need for reflection.”
If we’re ever going to be true innovators, we need to take time for reflection. If we’re willing to do that, we may discover new and better ideas or, at the very least, reinforce the strength of our existing beliefs. Either way, we’ll learn something and that’s never a waste of time.