So, every now and then I get tagged for one of those “Reveal 8 Weird Things about Yourself” memes. And I don’t respond because honestly, I can never think of ONE weird thing about me, let alone eight, that I haven’t already plastered all over the internet. I mean, “I think it’s perfectly fine to be fat” is plenty of weird right there.
But here’s a weird thing you probably didn’t know about me: despite not having a corporate job and fervently hoping I never will again, I read business books for entertainment. Usually marketing books. I love them like I love mystery novels, for real. Because marketing books — 99% of which are fluffed up 10-page whitepapers with only 3 noteworthy points — are really sociology and/or psychology books. Only, they’re the dumbest possible version of sociology and/or psychology books. So, instead of having to slog through a bunch of academic jargon and abstract theory, I can just skim all the fluff and come away with about one to three new(ish) insights into human behavior. It’s so much more fun than really thinking.
And that is how I came to be reading Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. I haven’t finished it yet, but the chapter on “Credibility” (one of the 6 components of “sticky” ideas, according to the brothers Heath) rang some bells.
The Heaths start off by telling the story of Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, the researchers who discovered that H. pylori causes ulcers. When they were first trying to convince the medical community that ulcers were caused by a bacteria, Marshall and Warren had very little credibility — and those who did have credibility in the field thought they were off their rockers.
And now, I quote:
There were no celebrations for Marshall and Warren, who had almost single-handedly improved the health prospects of several hundred million human beings. The reason for the lack of acclaim was simple: No one believed them.
…At the time of the discovery, Robin Warren was a staff pathologist at a hospital in Perth; Barry Marshall was a thirty-year-old internist in training, not even a doctor yet. The medical community expects important discoveries to come from Ph.D.s at research universities or professors at large, world-class medical centers. Internists do not cure diseases that affect 10 percent of the world’s population.
The final problem was the location. A medical researcher in Perth is like a physicist from Mississippi. Science is science, but, thanks to basic human snobbery, we tend to think it will emerge from some places but not others.
Marshall eventually got people’s attention by drinking a load of H. pylori, developing ulcer symptoms, and curing himself with antibiotics, all in a matter of days. It still didn’t convince people, but it got their attention. It was a start.
10 years later, the National Institutes of Health finally said yeah, antibiotics are the best way to treat ulcers. 11 years after that, Marshall and Warren won the Nobel Prize in medicine. Happy ending.
But for Marshall and Warren? I’m guessing that was a looooooong fucking 20 years.
And that is all I really have to say about the ongoing debate between Paul Campos and Walter Willett. That and, if your best argument is, “But he’s a LAWYER, not a doctor! He can’t understand the complexity of it! I’M FROM HARVARD!” you might want to seek advice from someone who knows more about debating than you do. Like, for instance, someone with a background in law.