Two days ago my kid woke up with a fever of about 103. He slept most of the day and night, his fever persisting, and, when he woke up the next morning with 104, my wife decided to take him to the doctor.
The doctor said that this is typical of a flu and that we should expect his fever to continue for up to five days. However, she did recommend a medication that has been known to break the fever quite a bit faster.
When we got home however, the kid categorically refused to take the medication. And yet, the next morning (today), his fever was completely gone and has not returned.
Had he taken the medicine, I would very likely be giving credit to the medication for the rapid healing. I would likely use it the next time he got sick and maybe even recommend it to other parents in a similar situation.
I am writing this to illustrate the danger of anecdotal evidence. Just because someone took something and they felt better is not evidence that this something really works. And, Facebook seems to have become the ideal place for anecdotal information to go viral.
But does this mean that it’s just not possible to ever know for sure if a medication works?
There actually is a process that can be used, and it’s called the scientific method. Here is a brief explanation of how this would work:
1) Sample Size – Instead of relying on the experience of one or two individuals, we conduct tests that involve several hundred or even several thousand individuals.
2) Control group – We divide those involved in the test into two groups, those who take the medication and those who don’t, to see if there is significant difference between the two.
3) Placebo – Those who aren’t taking the medication are still given a ‘fake’
pill so that they don’t know they are not receiving the actual treatment.
4) Double-blind – Neither those who are receiving the medication or those who are administering it know whether the medication is real or not.
5) Randomness – The selection as to who gets the real medicine is random.
6) Data – Accurate data is kept of how the sickness progressed for each individual involved in the experiment.
7) Statistical Analysis – Once the data is in, it is analyzed carefully to determine whether there is significant difference between the two groups. A 2% improvement as a result of taking the medication would not mean much, but 40% improvement might.
By using such a strict process it is possible to determine with a fair degree of certainty if any given treatment really works. When relying solely on anecdotal evidence, we simply don’t know.
I am writing this especially for my Seventh-day Adventist friends. Our denomination has always placed a high emphasis on physical health, and many of us are eager to pass around any remedy that claims to heal naturally. But we must keep in mind that while it is always safe to recommend a healthy lifestyle, it isn’t safe to recommend ‘natural’ treatments based on nothing more than someone’s testimony. Without proper testing, there just isn’t any way to know what we are dealing with.
If we are not careful in our sharing of health information online, we are liable to take something that was intended to build trust (our health message) and converting it into something that will discredit us and tarnish our reputation in the eyes of the public.