Once you have an innovation culture, even those who are not scientists or engineers - poets, actors, journalists - they, as communities, embrace the meaning of what it is to be scientifically literate. They embrace the concept of an innovation culture. They vote in ways that promote it. They don't fight science and they don't fight technology.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Last month I had the special pleasure of sharing some of my favorite research with a group of eager students who gathered together on a Saturday afternoon to learn more about the science of health and wellbeing. These were not college students taking a course for credit. These were members of my community who were interested in learning science to benefit their own lives. As a health psychologist, I research topics that are of interest to arguably any human. How can we motivate ourselves to make those big important changes we need to live happier and healthier lives? How can we use environment, behavior, and biology to elevate the quality of our lives?
In this era of easily accessible (albeit often inaccurate) information, anyone can claim to be an expert. Anyone can write blogs or share their advice on the internet. Anyone can market or label their product in a way that appeals to our yearning and interest in health or self-improvement. However, decades of research clearly demonstrate that human perception, memory, and even attention is highly biased, subjective, and therefore subject to error . Without the scientific method, we run the risk of understanding only the parts of an inquiry that we personally experience and only the information that fits into preconceived beliefs about a subject. In the early 60’s, medical doctors made recommendations on the “freshest” cigarette you can smoke. In certain cultures, folklore and myth still reign over science. Including the sad myth that one way of “curing” AIDS is to have sex with a virgin . Throughout time, we have witnessed countless tragedies wherein people blindly followed a highly charismatic leader who led them into destructive behaviors including violence against themselves and others. Now more than ever, there are countless examples of “experts” who are ready to share their anecdotal accounts and opinions as facts, and push their personal beliefs as suggestions for the broader population.
We cannot afford to allow our health decisions to be ruled by the flashiest, most attractive, easy and instant ideas out there. As a scientist, I am skeptical of any “expert” or alternative “framework,” until I see the data to support it. Not just any information will suffice in creating a deep and adequate understanding of health and wellbeing. I want to know who is asking these questions, who is answering these questions, how do they measure it, have they been able to repeat this study, and what are the mechanisms that explain how this phenomenon works? Science offers a systematic approach in studying these big questions we all want to understand. Even after taking all of these measures to create the most objective type of approach possible, human subjectivity and bias can still trickle in. But scientific inquiry is a process that is beautifully alive, always helping us to uncover more and more of the big picture of health.
I am so invigorated by these conversations in my own community about how to implement scientifically-backed strategies to improve our daily lives. It shows me that people care and we are willing to invest time and effort into learning a new approach that will create long lasting wellness.
Thank you for your interest in these topics! For those of you that want to learn more, please feel free to email me with any inquiries. I look forward to more opportunities to empower my community with scientific knowledge and evidence-based strategies for greater wellbeing.
Kahneman, D., Slovic, P., and Tversky, A., eds. 1982. Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Leclerc-Madlala, S. (2002). On the virgin cleansing myth: gendered bodies, AIDS and ethnomedicine. African Journal of AIDS Research, 1(2), 87-95.