Don't leave it to the scientists

Don't leave it to the scientists

Summary: A nurse puts discussion board miscreants on notice about their lousy attitude toward non-scientists discussing science.


I am disturbed by the bizarre attitude that I have seen, a number of times, in the comments section of this blog about leaving medical research interpretation to "the scientists".

It's as if science is some kind of sacrosanct thing that no one who isn't a card-carrying member of some secret scientific priesthood should be allowed to even bring up in a discussion. However, we're all introduced to science as a hands-on thing in grammar school, with hopes that it'll engender a love of the discipline and a comfort level with the topic.

Maybe science education will inspire a kid enough to grow up and become a scientist, or be involved in a science-based profession. It seems like we really need that here in the US, since we are lagging dreadfully behind other nations in terms of math and science education. The snarky "hands-off" attitude is partly to blame.

The truth is, science is a system for understanding and interacting with our world, and it is our birthright. Some of us are better at it, and more trained in it, than others. Not all of us get to wear the label of "scientist," and that's for good reason. But all of us have a right to discuss scientific topics, for Pete's sake.

It's just weird to assert that with all the science we learn in grade school, high school, college, and some of us in nursing school or other professional training, now we're supposed to shut down our brains and zip our lips and not even talk about it. Really? Not even to increase our understanding?

The fact is that with the huge, much-needed trend toward evidence-based practice of nursing and other medical disciplines, it is absolutely necessary, and an important part of the nursing profession, to read and interpret studies. This helps us question, understand the reasons for, and potentially modify what we're doing in our day-to-day practice accordingly.

I can absolutely substantiate that this is true, if only because there are whole chapters in many Fundamentals of Nursing books about the nurse's role in research and studies. It is a concept introduced early and encouraged often for nursing students and for new nurses. In fact, research is an entire field of the nursing profession.

It is a critical part of the role of the nurse to read and understand scientific studies so we can interpret and explain their implications in an understandable way to clients and patients, as well as the loved ones accompanying them on their journey toward better health.

Critical thinking and the practice of the scientific-method-based nursing process is part of why our employers are willing to pay us our nursing salaries instead of hiring yet more assistive personnel. This is not to knock our assistive personnel either. They play an important role on the medical team.

Next: Sexism masquerading as criticism »

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And another thing...

This brings me to another topic. I dislike the attitude (also disturbingly displayed on the discussion board of this blog) that doctors are somehow better than nurses. Frankly, it has roots in misogyny since nursing has traditionally been a woman's profession, although that tradition doesn't fully match reality anymore. It also has the side effect of being very challenging for the nurses I know who are men. We stopped saying "female doctor" a long time ago. Isn't it time to lose the term "male nurse"?

The star quarterback doctor can't win the game alone. The operating room nurses maintaining surgical sterile technique are helping to save patient's lives, as are the nurses doing post-surgical assessment and medication administration, as are the assistive personnel who help sore and sick patients onto their bedpans after a difficult surgery. Everyone has an important role on the medical team. Every bit of it is performed by the appropriate player in sacred service to the sick, and should be honored and never dissed.

An article in the Journal of Advanced Nursing (paywall) addresses the subject of barriers nurses face to using research in evidence-based practice. One of the barriers named was a lack of organizational support. That lack of support might well be informed by the whole outdated, sexist, "Get-in-your-place, shut-up-and-do-what-you're-told, and go-change-a-bedpan," attitude that some ignorant members of the general populace have about nurses.

Maybe it's our nursing associations' fault for not educating the public about what nurses actually do. After all, we teach people how to treat us, and nurses are nothing if not teachers, so we have to take some responsibility for the sad fact that many people don't know that one of the main aspects of our role is, at its pure essence, to teach.

Next: Stop discouraging thinking »

« Previous: Sexism masquerading as criticism

Quit discouraging people from thinking!

Therefore, I'm taking it upon myself to school the disrespectful parties. I hereby place you on notice. I don't want to hear, "Leave it to the scientists," again. Grow up. This kind of irresponsible attitude ensures that there will someday be no scientists. If we're told it's not okay to talk or think about science, no one will perceive it as an approachable domain or desire to picture themselves in it.

It puts me in mind of academically lazy "too-cool-for-school" teenagers who complain about having to learn algebra and science because it's not going to be used in their anticipated daily grind and spend their days torturing their more studious peers. If we are not exposed to these things and taught how to get our minds around them, no one can ever possibly be inspired to take up those torches and run with them.

Anyone capable of critical thinking should be encouraged to take a stab at reading and interpreting scientific studies. And everyone should be carefully trained to be capable of critical thinking. And a good dialogue about these things is vital to our understanding. And anyone who is attempting to police what we choose to learn about or constructively discuss to facilitate our understanding, whether here on these boards or elsewhere, is behaving like a bully. That would simply be pathetic if it weren't so damaging.

Critical thinking itself is our birthright. The idea of critical thinking is often given lip service, but not truly encouraged, because it involves questioning authority. Tact and respect are necessary when broaching difficult subjects, and it is important to keep in mind that it is easier to criticize than to create. But critical examination and discussion of science is what creates a system of checks and balances that helps scientists reach new heights for the betterment of the world we all share.

Even the most respected and admired of our scientists are capable of wrong thinking, logical fallacies, or being too close to their work. I would imagine that sometimes scientists really wish they had more people to have a decent conversation with and bounce ideas off. I'm sure they're tired of the dismissive, "Go be a nerd somewhere else," kind of crap they constantly get from people who keep themselves busy going to any expedient to avoid the true labor of thinking (to paraphrase Edison).

The fair warning that it's important to know your limitations when wading into the waters of deep scientific study is good advice. But telling someone not to even dare to test the waters by trying to think is not only unconstructive, it's actually unconscionable.

The engraving illustrating this article was by artist Henry Fuseli, and was the frontispiece from Charles Darwin's grandfather Erasmus' book, "The Temple of Nature." It symbolizes science as the earnest attempt by the goddess of poetry to reveal the mysterious goddess of nature by removing her veil.

Topics: Legal, Enterprise Software


Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse, the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College.

Nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice, and shouldn't be considered as such. If you are in need of medical help, please see your doctor.

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  • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists

    *stand up*
    *clap* *clap* *clap*

    • Wasn't too many centuries ago the reading of the Bible ....

      ....was forbidden for these very same reasons (you are not smart enough to understand it).
      Unfortunately, kook will have their own interpretation of the Scriptures and science to the detriment of many.
      • And how do you propose to fix this?

        Should we limit access to certain books to holders of relevant academic degrees?
        John L. Ries
      • Nurse must involve

        As a patient before, I see that nurses have a very critical role in helping their patient recover from their condition. Unlike the doctors, nurses are person who spend their time a lot with their patient. I often communicate with them more than with doctor. That's why, as a research team of <a style="color: #252525;font-weight:normal; text-decoration:none!important; background:none!important; text-decoration:none;" href="">anti inflammatory foods</a> Inc., I think it is absolutely necessary if they have enough knowledge to do the job professionally. Things like evidence-based practice of nursing and other medical disciplines will definitely help them increase their knowledge, so they can understand the patient's condition better, explain in understandable ways to patient as well as the family who accompanying the patient, and even notify the doctor immediately when the patient's condition get worse.
  • Spot on, new science is killing us

    Ah the greening of science.; groupthink promotion of "scientific consensus", corruptible peer review process, fallacious appeals to authority, models over data. <br><br>Offensive labels and abuse of differing opinion to shutdown debate. <br><br>The undermining of the scientific method. Sadly I suspect it will only get worst.
    Richard Flude
    • Don't forget

      @Richard Flude - Don't forget corporate influence and results thusly skewed! There is no real medical research anymore in the U.S., perhaps none left in the entire world. It's all funded by Big Pharma now, and that means that they toss findings that don't serve their purpose and exaggerate the ones that will.
      • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists

        @omb00900@... : Yeah - whatever happened to peer review, anyway??? Corps and politicos just want to push personal agendae with no concern about truth - so very dishonest and deserving of censure in my book!
    • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists

      @Richard Flude : I gotta say that the "Scientific method", as defined in my origonal Philosophy of Science college course, is also largely at fault. If one is to formulate the theorem FIRST, and THEN try to experimentally substantiate it, the motivation will definitely be slanted toward keeping "acceptable" data, and "excusing" the rest. It totally fails to consider basic Human nature of always wanting to be correct.
      • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists

        @Willnott You don't experiment to substantiate it, you experiment to disprove it. You take a null hypothesis and set about criteria for the disproof of your null hypothesis, and then do experiments... Sure the human factor comes into play, but that's where your colleagues come in. If you make a controversial assertion, someone else will test it to try to disprove it. <br><br>Also, obviously these theories don't come out of a vacuum, they're usually based on the outcome of another experiment.

        I also think that it should be acknowledged that in practice this works best in academia where there isn't really corporate money involved and thus less of a motivation about what the answer is.
    • No, Rather

      @Richard Flude;

      The perversion of science by monied interests is harming all of mankind.
    • Hopefully, the models are based on data

      @Richard Flude
      But models are only approximations of reality, not reality itself. But if scientists are going to make predictions, they need to build and validate models nevertheless (only God comprehends absolute truth).
      John L. Ries
  • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists

    I've noticed the ones who say "leave it to the scientists" or "leave it to the *insert professional title associated with profession here* in a discussion are more often than not angry trolls who know they are in the wrong and take being given the facts as some sort of personal insult.

    Now in actual practice one SHOULD leave brain surgery to the brain surgeons, electrical work to the electricians, and legal procedures to the lawyers because - presumably - those people have in depth training in their particular field. But to bar discussion of brain surgery, electrical work, and legal procedures to those same people is short sighted at best.
    • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists

      @athynz : "...and take being given the facts as some sort of personal insult..." Perhaps this is because there is so much "junk science" out there today (politicized issues are first that come to mind = AKA Al Gore) that they feel helpless to be able to sort out junk from value. Yes, we need public discussion, but even more than that we need much more active and thorough peer reiew, and open, frank publishing of both sides of every review. Politically motivated folks really do not want that kind of honesty because it likely damages their issue.
      • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists

        @Willnott There is quite a bit of junk science out there - my comment was directed more towards the ones who troll the forums and make those oh so helpful "leave this to the professional" type comments without anything to back up their point of view.
      • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists

        @athynz<br>"anything to back up their point of view..."<br>Did you even read what I wrote (I assume you are addressing this to me).
    • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists


      I've found that people will post things that are outright false, and will not take no for an answer because they are so attached to their beliefs. I don't think we should bar discussion from those people, however, I think those people need to be willing to admit that they don't have all of the answers and as such when someone who is a professional in that field comes along and adds that fact to the discussion they shouldn't should NO OMG OMG UR WRONG. It's more than a bit insulting to be told by someone who doesn't understand your field that your 4 years of expensive education in a subject are meaningless. Sometimes the fact is people who do something professionally have more of a grounding in the reality of a situation than amatures who read wikipedia and espouse what's written there as fact.

      I've been guilty of getting pissed at people for being outright wrong. But at the same time, what exactly is the point of having people who do things professionally if they do not become experts on a subject... Obviously they should be questioned, but when they have an explanation for why something is wrong, if it makes sense, we should just move on in the discussion.
      • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists

        @snoop0x7b I'm also guilty of getting pissed at people who spread obvious FUD and lies... or being willfully ignorant.

        I'm always good for a decent debate or discussion especially ones where all involved come away from that with more knowledge than they did before... which is why so many of the "discussions" here on ZDNet bring out the worst in me because it always seems to degenerate into a "my thing is better/bigger/more feature laden than your thing because I said so" pissing match...
  • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists

    Ah, so I have struck a nerve it seems?
    Would you fly a plane or leave it to the pilot?
    I did not think so....
    Scientists by nature are conservative, because one of the most feared outcome of any study is over interpretation. It seems to me this is what you were doing. Now, if you were just chatting about things- fine, but it seemed to me you are reaching to a large audience and trying to give advice.
    I am a molecular biologist by training. I would never try to interpret let's say astronomy data, unless I spend several years teaching myself first how to do it.
    As for the criticism of scientific approach- one can write a whole book on it.
    Now, if you have done so and you think you have sufficient knowledge of statistics, biochemistry and medicine- go ahead, interpret for yourself. Otherwise- just find a good doctor and listen to her/him.
    This is my honest advice.
    • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists


      Wow... what a pompous ass.
      Hallowed are the Ori
      • RE: Don't leave it to the scientists

        @Hallowed are the Ori
        Yeah, yeah, when you are out of arguments just call names, how mature Ori!