Monday, May 10, 2010


Lying within a couple of bytes of permanently fallow, my better blog, Surgeonsblog, still gets visitors. Some find it when searching for a specific surgical topic; others seem to stumble upon it from a moldering link on another site. When comments are left, questions asked, I reply. That it remains viable after I've mostly left it, still providing useful information or entertainment for people (or, quoting an email I just received, "inspiration") gives me satisfaction. Too, once in a while, it drives me nuts.

A post that gets regular traffic is this one, about gallbladder flushes. Like all "cleansing" procedures -- especially colon cleanses, a favorite among liberals for some reason, if reading the Huffington Post (which I do, regularly [no pun]) is any indicator -- such holy happenings are peddled prodigiously by the deluded or the deceptive, and carried out with commitment by the credulous. Unlike colon cleansing, which has no visible verifier except the expected effluvium, gallbladder flushes produce something tangible, something magical, something given the credence of a brickbat. It's real, it's there for the looking. It's proof positive.

It's bullshit.

And yet, I still get testimonials for the treatment, along with vigorous personal derogation for dissing it. Did so again recently, got into quite a little tête á tête. Hand in hand, such belief is accompanied by certainty that doctors are liars and thieves, and that the only reliable health care is to be received from -- you name it -- naturopaths, chiropracters, homeopaths, and chi-ters. The less evidence, the better.

What impresses them beyond recall to reality is the production of "stones" in their feces after they drink the potion. With minor variations, the flushee takes a combination of oil and something acidic and, by golly, like cottage cheese, it produces little curds in the turds that the true believer is convinced are gallstones. I've had them brung to me, with smug certainty, in little cups, a wrong thing on many levels. Without recounting the simple physiology of the gallbladder and the only slightly more complicated chemistry of bile, not to mention the geometry of bile ducts and the physical nature of gallstones, I'll assert, and the reader will accept based on my decades of care for patients and my hundreds of posts which have never deviated from factual, that there simply is no way taking that brew or anything else by mouth will cause a gallbladder to disgorge itself of stones. Believing these potions can work is like thinking you can change your spark plugs by flushing the radiator.

But them cute little curds: what more proof does a believer need? (Suggestion: pick one up and rub it between your fingers.)

Which brings me back into this blog's bailiwick: why do humans need to believe stuff that's so obviously untrue, easily disproved, completely bogus? Whether it's Obama's birth, the age of the earth, a homeopath's worth, or evolutionary dearth, people can be persuaded of the damndest things. Why? In the human brain, how can such disparate things dwell as art, music, love, engineering, architecture, invention... and... belief in gallbladder flushes, Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck? With so much in us that strives for perfection, for understanding our world, for discovery, we remain capable of -- in need of, evidently -- self-delusion of the most remarkable and refractory sort. My latest in the thrall of flushes was absolutely convinced, while derisively dismissive of factual input. Not unlike some commenters here. So deep is the need.

Philosophers can wrestle with it, theses can be written. But to me, if it's frustrating and depressing, it's also simple: our minds have not kept pace with our ability to create. We've made the world too complex and too dangerous for the limited capacity we have to understand what we've done or, from the beginning maybe, to handle uncertainty. It's a paradox of evolution. Capable of so much, our brains have significant and perverse lacunae. Faced with inescapable reality, like the kid who spills ink on the carpet, we turn to pretense. When we can't deal with the world we've made, we make stuff up that feels good, that's easy, magical. Water memory. Death panels. Creationism. Fair and balanced. For that matter, in terms of demonstrating failures of human cerebration, I find it hard to make much distinction between believing there's a red-skinned guy with horns and a tail living in the center of the earth, that martyrdom gets you a two-month supply of virgins, and this. All evidence that in apprehension of reality we're fatally flawed. (By "fatally," I mean "fatally." And by "we" I mean "they.")

If we're going to save ourselves from ourselves, we have a hell of a long way to go, which means we better find a way to pick up the pace of evolution in a big hurry. I wonder if lemon juice and olive oil would work...


  1. Not all the links are old and mouldering.

  2. "The Human Need to believe in stuff thats obviously Untrue"

    You mean like Global Warming?
    That immunizations cause Autism?
    That there is even such a condition as "Autism"?
    Like Pediatricians doing unnecessary Tonsilectomies?
    Nice Mother's Day post BTW, makes me look sorta bad for all the Aricept/Alzheimers jabs I send your way...
    I think it's reversed in my case, my Mom kicking my ass in Chess yesterday, making a joke of my Sicilian Defense...
    Might as well have been a Sicilian Pizza the way it melted to her old fashioned Queen's gambit opening..
    Maybe I SHOULDN'T have eaten all that British Beef back in the 90's...


  3. "The Human Need to believe in stuff that's obviously Untrue"

    Like Reagan was God; like "W" is his only begotten son, and Palin his only begotten daughter?

    "Weapons of mass destruction"

    "Money is free speech"

    "Corporations are persons"

    "Laissez-faire Capitalism"

    "The Laffer Curve"

    "Self Regulating Markets"

    "Trickle Down"

    "Jesus wants you to be rich"

    "The Patriot Act has something to do with patriotism"

    "Ayn Rand"

    "Glen Beck"



    All of the above are "obviously untrue" and research shows that all evidence that proves them to be untrue only reinforces belief in the believers.

    Stupidity is self reinforcing.


  4. Ewwwwwww its Yew, Ewwww-Gene.
    Just to be accurate, they DID find Sarin gas in Iraq, which is as much a WMD as you can get, ask the Kurds, or try some yourself...
    Of course with your BO, it might be an improvement..

    Frank,"WMD-eez Nuts" Drackman

  5. Like Reagan was God . . .?

    Like Reagan came down with a special form of Alzheimers--one with such a short onset that he couldn't possibly have had it while in office.

    By the way, Elsevier (the world's sluttiest biomedical publisher) put out a journal called Homeopathy, which is like a parody of a science journal, only not funny. It's as scientifically rigorous as naturopathic medicine gets--which is to say, they publish research that would be considered a waste of time anywhere else. (CAM publications are repetitively, ponderously heavy on studies and opinion pieces of HR issues and patient satisfaction, but understandably lacking in efficacy research. Really, what are they going to say?)

  6. Drekman...(PeesBeUponYou)

    OK... Ya got me, they found some forty year old Sarin shells left over from their war with Iran.

    Very decent of you to plead nolo contendere, regarding the rest of my comment, though!


  7. If the claims of Homeopathy are true, every time Drekman belches beer and Cheetos, he destroys the ozone layer and contributes to global warming.


  8. Ewww-Gene,
    So 40 yr old Sarin won't kill you??
    and y'all the ones talkin about homopathololgy.
    Why don't you go breath some Ozone if you love it so much?
    and how do I know your on a (Mental) disability pension???
    Must be pretty bad when even the Post Office won't touchya,

    Frank(Fleas be upon Me)

    OK, your sarcastic responses to my sarcastic (Peace be upon Him) are pretty funny...who cares? even a Monkey can type McBeth once in a while...


  9. DrekMan...(HissBeUponYou)

    Keep hitting the keys then; you've got a lot of typing to do.

    But go for Othello; Iago is more like you.



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