I have lately been getting really RAGEY about certain topics, where the great unwashed masses (i.e., the sector of the general public who disagree with me) take stances that reveal what is, to me, a GROSS MISUNDERSTANDING of biology. Because I have a LOT of schooling in biology, physiology, etc., I try to remember that what is basic to me may be completely foreign to a layperson, but it’s hard. Other things, well, I know the underlying biology is not remotely basic, but I wish that there were a way to communicate it to laypeople more effectively. All of these things make me crazy. Some examples:
1. Vaccines. I am not sure I can even talk about this without hurting someone. I will only say two things [today]: first, anecdotal evidence is not the same thing, and does not carry the same [read: any] weight as scientific and epidemiological evidence. Second, the choice of vaccinating or not affects entire populations, not simply the individual in question. The amount of restraint I am showing stopping with that is HUGE, let me tell you.
2. Individual metabolism, weight issues, etc. It pisses me RIGHT OFF when people assume that every body behaves the same way. That if only you ate like *I* eat (as in, some asshole, not me (or you) personally), you’d be just as thin and fit! NO. The amount we understand about diet/exercise/physiology, compared to what we don’t, is like comparing a bottle of water to the fucking OCEAN. There are some things we know for sure, though: whole foods trump processed, some bodies tend to be heavier than others regardless of diet, exercise AND diet are both important.
3. Mixing frequently used pharmaceuticals and alcohol (e.g., tylenol/acetaminophen, antibiotics, etc.). Some things, no big deal. Other things, HUGE DEAL. People joke (I hope it’s a joke) about taking some nyquil and having some wine – NOoOoo. Alcohol competes with acetaminophen for certain enzymes, forcing the acetaminophen down an alternative metabolic pathway that creates terrible toxins that can lead to liver failure. As I type this out, I realize it probably isn’t “basic”, so I’ll chalk this up to scientists and doctors failing to communicate effectively. BUT DAMN, acetaminophen overdose or alcohol-aggravated toxicity is one of the number one causes of liver failure in the US, the top Poison Control call issue, etc., so we should do a better job educating on this! AND, this failure to communicate is why the dosage on acetaminophen was just reduced: instead of explaining why you shouldn’t take too much, they just reduced the dosage so when people take too much it won’t be as big a deal. GRR.
4. Alcohol and pregnancy. I hate this one because of how other people’s opinions end up affecting MY life. There have been articles circulating about this recently, as a new study (NOT the first one by a long shot) was published showing that drinking MODERATELY while pregnant is not a big deal. The comments I’ve seen relating to it have been half supportive, half “Oh well, you can hurt YOUR baby, but I won’t drink a DROP because I LOVE mine.” Well, fuck that tone, first of all, but that aside: the great American hatred of moderation is the issue here. Things don’t fall cleanly into “healthy” and “toxic” – the dose makes the poison. If you drink too much of ANYTHING, including goddamn WATER, it will do bad things. But, instead of publicizing the idea of moderation, America decided to take a hard line and say none for anyone. Like the medical and political establishments basically thought we were all idiots that couldn’t be trusted to understand things like “serving sizes” oh wait shit we can’t. GAAh.
5. Artificial sweeteners, slash why I will always drink Diet Coke so help me. The volume of diet coke you’d have to drink DAILY for your ENTIRE LIFE to cause toxicity? Well, you’d basically have to become an aquatic mammal that lives in a diet coke ocean. GALLONS. A day. When I was pregnant, a co-worker used to come by my office every day and judge me openly about my single DC per day habit. And he was an effing toxicologist, who smokes (see #7). RAGE.
6. Bisphenol A. This isn’t basic, and some of the scientists fall into the unwashed masses camp. But, as a toxicologist (a reproductive toxicologist at that), let me just say: calm down. “BPA Free!” has become a marketing tool. BPA is so well-studied at this point, and any potential toxicity is so minor that no one can even come up with anything remotely definitive. The only definitive thing is that a) the levels in human blood are super low, and b) the estrogenicity of BPA is way way less than anything made of soybeans. So, ya know, freak out about soy. Also, the shit they are replacing BPA with? Totally un-studied. So, if you are still freaking out about this, could you at least send me all your old plastic stuff? Because I will totally use that shit.
7. When people are totally insane about one of the above, but also smoke. Like, “Oh, I will NOT use plastic, glass only for me!” as they gesticulate with a cigarette. Smoking is about the ONLY life choice you, as an individual, can make that will have a measurable impact on your personal health (and the health of others! Awesome!). The other shit, like BPA, pesticides on your fruit? Incredibly subtle, population level effects – like, you would need MILLIONS of people to possibly see anything, and even then, it’s usually only a weak correlation, not causation.
I know that I am missing a lot of things that piss me off (I’m sure you’re super bummed to be missing out on my absurd rage), but #1 clouds my memory of anything else I’ve encountered recently. Also, I’m kind of sorry if any of this makes you personally angry, but really I’d rather have a rage free educational discussion about all the reasons that I am right. So, let’s do that instead.