St. George and the Dragon

Myth-Busting, Confusion, and Deception

Myth-busting is a popular approach for tackling controversial or misunderstood subjects. Certainly you’ll find a bit of that here at ConscienHealth. We’re not shy about dispelling myths. But Derek Powell and colleagues conclude that myth-busting can become deceptive. If the question at hand is subtle – not starkly true or false – then myth-busting can leave readers with less understanding. They published the research that led them to this conclusion in Psychological Sciences.

Case Study: Diabetes and Sugar

To make this point, Powell et al focused on a Diabetes Myths page published online by the American Diabetes Association. The researchers assert that the ADA myths are not purely false. Rather, they say, they are only technically false. A real myth should be clearly false.

So the researchers assessed baseline knowledge of diabetes among 250 respondents. After that baseline, they split the sample into different test and control groups. Two groups got the ADA information as myths. Two groups got the information as questions. One group received no new information. Then, the researchers gave a post-test of diabetes knowledge.

The researchers found what they designed the study to find. That the myth-busting format actually led to less understanding of diabetes.

Scolding the American Diabetes Association

Throughout this paper, a harsh view of the ADA’s information about diabetes myths is crystal clear. A myth must be clearly false, say the authors. But instead, they say, the ADA is relying on technicalities and uncharitable interpretations to say that these concepts are myths. It’s worth noting that all of these contested ideas deal with the subject of sugar.

So we are apt to wonder if a bit of subjectivity has crept into this research. They certainly make good points about the duty of expert organizations like ADA to provide good and entirely truthful information. But they go a bit further. They accuse ADA of paltering. That’s a word for suggesting deceit – without going all the way to an accusation of lying.

And thus, we take these results with some caution. The line between beliefs and facts is way too fuzzy today. The ADA needs to be careful about facts regarding sugar and health. Likewise, people with conflicting opinions should be careful about their own objectivity.

We all need to be careful to distinguish facts from beliefs, and beliefs from myths.

Click here for the study and here for further perspective in a press release.

St. George and the Dragon, painting by Paolo Uccello / WikiArt

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June 18, 2018

2 Responses to “Myth-Busting, Confusion, and Deception”

  1. June 18, 2018 at 6:22 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Thanks, Ted! You’ve stimulated some real #DiscomfortOfThought with your post and I want to read the full paper to get my brain around it.

    You would be right in assuming that I will be thinking about this through a #nicotine lens as there are many many similarities.


    • June 18, 2018 at 8:20 am, Ted said:

      You’re right Joe. This research offers a snake pit of discomforting thoughts. Myth-busters and myth-buster busters better look over their shoulders.