Belief Systems

So Mrs Smith ("Not her real name") sends her physician a printout from the Internet (or a clipping from a magazine or a flyer or whatever) describing JOE'S SNAKE OIL which she is certain has saved her life and lowered her cholesterol and made her hair grow longer and now she is exercising and dancing and running around the house and she is happy for the first time in years and she is eating better and no longer has to take her blood pressure medicine and so on.

And .. yeh .. no kidding .. it all happened and the BP is down and the cholesterol is better and the diet is MUCH improved and the exercise is happening and the smoking stopped and …

So the physician wrinkles his nose and wonders what to do.  Clearly (to him) the changes are from the improvments in lifestyle.  Better living "cured" the patient of the ills that were all likely due to her previously rotten lifestyle. 

To her, the changes in lifestyle couldn't have been possible without Joe's Snake Oil and now she is certain the the physician is going to embrace this and sell it to all of his patients and everyone will be happy and then THEY too will live better and go off all of their medications.

But he's one of these "I Like EBM" nuts and there were no confidence intervals or p values or likelihood ratios or even NNTs in her literature so … this ain't really flying his kite at all and he's thinkin he's going to set her straight and tell her right out that it wasn't the Snake Oil at all .. but her own good choices and actions that made her do so well.  Had nuthin to do with the Snake Oil.

(He thinks fondly of Dumbo's Magic Feather .. which enabled him to fly .. until he realized that he could fly without it too!)  …

But maybe that's silly of him to "set her right." 

What does it matter?  So long as Joe's Snake Oil won't hurt her … who cares if she belives it helped her so much.

He does.  He hates to see her waste her money on such a silly thing.

But it's a lot less than those $30 co-pays .. which really add up — eh?

Where's MY magic feather?  I haven't been able to fly since I lost it!

One Reply to “Belief Systems”

  1. Your magic feather is belief. It does not matter what it is you believe in (a.k.a. Joe’s Snake Oil). It only matters that you believe and that this belief is strong enough to incentivize you into action.

    Believe you can fly and you will. You did not lose your feather, you lost you belief in something. What was it?

    P.S. That patient is not wasting money if the “snake oil” got her to make all the good changes. Most people need this type of catalyst. Just because there is no direct, measureable positive result does not negate the value that was gained. Retain an open mind.

    Now, can you give me a snake oil to stop my shoulder hurting, get me to eat right, stop drinking, but still provide me the enjoyment I get from those vices? See, I would pay anything…

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