Trusting people on decisions of consequence


Well-Known Member
Sep 24, 2006
I was reading an interesting article about global warming today and (as I have in the past on this topic) can't decide where on the line this article lies between gospel truth and complete BS. It lead me to thinking about all the topics where I really have to depend on others to form my opinions, and how vulnerable that makes me and anyone else who cant personally scientifically verify all the claims that potentially have an impact on how they live their lives. Some examples that pop to mind immediately:

1) Global warming - is it fake? is it real? if so is it man made? if so is it reversible? (if this one tweaks your nob check out State of Fear by Michael Crichton)
2) Diet - Whats the right balance of food to eat? The current FDA guidelines? The old FDA guidelines? (And by the way why the hell are they different?) The way cavemen used to eat? Something else?
3) What food is safe and what isn't?
4) Will generic drugs harm me? What about pot?
5) Is cholesterol good for me, or is it bad, or neither?

There are hundreds of other examples, but I think you get the jist of it. In each of these cases there are countless people on either side of the argument both with things to gain and things to lose depending on which direction society swings on the issue. These aren't just the paid campaigners, but also the experts themselves with skin the game. It makes it very difficult to find someone impartial to rely on when deciding how to live your life. This is also at a time when decisions are becoming increasingly complicated. While I could choose to make the time commitment to become an expert on any one or two of these topics, getting to the level of understanding to be able to make a first hand judgment is simply too time consuming to do it for everything.

So my question is: How do you decide (or don't you) between positions on topics that are simply too complicated to personally understand every nuance, where experts are biased to have you choose one way or another?

Short of having a family member who is an expert, I don't have a good answer to this and tend to just go with "what works", but that breaks down when the impacts are too far down the road to see. (heart disease, climate change, etc)

PS: Sorry I went link crazy. I'm just trying to demonstrate that there are well thought out positions on both popular and unpopular sides of arguments that have been in the news lately. More interestingly some of these things were in the news 20 years ago and society came down on the opposite decision back then (examples: babies should now sleep on their backs, in the 1980's it was on their stomachs, back in the early 1900's before the big "meat scare" meat was a much larger component of the recommended diet.)
Quick, off the top off my head answers:

1) Global warming and the environmental concerns are real, are being felt now in the weather as the meteorologists have been predicting for more than a decade. Check the statistics. They empirically suggest that our industrial processes have had a direct hand in contributing to the environmental effects and we are long overdue for drastic action.

2) Chuck fads into the BS bin. Review should be case-by-case and what I hold to be the most suitable rationale is "gaining an optimum balance for intake, metabolism and output". This means for most people, get the essentials, and BALANCED DIET. Excluding one element may exclude vital aspects of the diet- that said this isn't a "you must eat meat" statement, as it is possible to have a healthy (healthier) diet eating only veg. It depends on your health first and your priorities next.

3) Best answer: it depends on if you factor in "how" safe. Risk is a spectrum, not an on-off switch. Knee-jerk reactions are characteristically strong in this field though.

4) One should try and consider "short term" and "long term" effects as well as the actual effects itself. I can't really give anywhere near a comprehensive answer to this unless one were to ask for specifics. Of course, we do not necessarily know 100% either, so again, it's a matter of "beyond reasonable doubt" or "take a chance and lump it".

5) Here's the quick answer: There are three types of lipoprotein. There is the High Density Lipoprotein which is involved in "reverse lipid transport" which is theorised to prevent negative effects of cholesterol- or rather Low Density Lipoprotein, which is implicated in atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease etc. There's also the VLDL (go figure) and that seems to be used only in initial transport to liver. Basically, the belief is that low TOTAL cholesterol is good (<5.5mmol/L or something like that) and also, try to keep a higher HDL ratio.

I know it's easy enough for me to say all that because...well, it's my job to know that stuff among several other things. As a general statement, the medical body of knowledge should be at the forefront when it comes to health advice...and of course it depends on whether one can trust their practicioner to give that advice. It also depends on the role a medical practicioner plays.

But you probably want a general guide, so I suppose I'll see what I can come up with:

1) Instead of asking "is this true", one could ask "what is this true of?" This is not directed at discerning what is right but it might help clear up some of the confusion when assessing "is this more true than the other".
2) Naturally one would then have to ask what context the opinion was written in. Following on from this:
3) What agenda does the opinion/article etc. follow, and what relation to the person making that post could it have?
4) What could the intention of the poster be? For example, some of the health advice you get comes bundled with an obvious marketing ploy to "buy my protein shake because branched-chain-amino-acids are good for you!" (which is BS).

In all of that, one can either go with the flow or they can keep actively searching and keeping abreast of the general climate and changes. We must always be aware of the limitations of our knowledge, of course, and the turning tides of popular opinion as a loose reflection of this is an inevitability.