Why You Trust the Internet More Than Your Doctor

Doctors were once the most trusted members of the community, but now it’s the opposite. Why are we so desperate for our doctors to be wrong?

02.26.15 10:25 AM ET

I don’t get it.

I wish I could get paid for every time I’ve said that phrase when discussing complementary and alternative medicine…or women. With even a small stipend for each utterance I could have retired to a warm, sandy island by now.

Doctors used to be among the highest-trusted professionals in the community, but now we’re the enemy. A brief perusal online will show that we in the medical field are all in Big Pharma’s pocket. Doctors aren’t esteemed now, we’re dangerous.

Because of this distrust of modern mainstream medicine, everywhere I look I’m bombarded by the latest greatest hocus-pocus voodoo magic being hawked or endorsed by beautiful celebrities or (even worse) celebrity doctors: Dr. Oz and his newest miracle diet; Dr. Bob Sears and his “alternative” vaccine schedule; Jenny McCarthy and Donald Trump and Rob Schneider propagating the “vaccines cause autism” myth; Deepak Chopra claiming humans can “direct the way our bodies metabolize time”; Gwyneth Paltrow endorsing vaginal steaming. Coffee enemas. GMOs. Organic food. Paleo diet. Gluten free.

I just don’t get it.

None of these things have solid evidence to support them—doctors even argue against them—yet people flock to them like moths to a flame. Why are so many people so desperate for doctors to be wrong? How has the Internet become a more trusted source of medical information than the family doctor? How is it that medical degrees have not only become meaningless, but are now causing people to actively disbelieve doctors?

My 8-year old daughter must have seen the frustration on my face as I was reading yet another article written by a naturopath about how conventional medicine only treats symptoms while homeopathy treats the cause of disease (really? I had no idea antibiotics only treat symptoms. I always thought they kill bacteria), because she told me exactly what I tell her whenever she gets frustrated with her schoolwork:

“Daddy, just take a deep breath and think.”

Thank goodness for children. So I followed her wisdom. I sat, took a few deep breaths, and I thought. And just when I thought the situation was hopeless…the truth revealed itself. An epiphany. A revelation!

I got it.

I think.

In school the cool kids were always the rebellious ones, the ones who defied authority and did their own thing. Only nerds followed the rules and did what they thought they were supposed to do. Could it be that this philosophy carries over into medicine?

I get it. Conventional medicine is just that: conventional, mainstream, conformist. But these days no one wants to be “conventional.” No one wants to be square or ordinary or commonplace or normal. It isn’t cool to be normal. But alternative medicine, now that’s cool, hip, and current. It’s different. And being different has to be better than, well, the alternative, which is merely conventional. It doesn’t matter that alternative medicine hasn’t been proved to work, because it’s alternative, you think. But as comedian Tim Minchin said, “You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.”

I get it. Drugs are scary. Pharmaceutical companies have paid billions in fines. Blockbuster drugs like Vioxx and Avandia have been quickly approved and just as quickly taken off the market, and every drug seems to come with a warning that it may cause nausea, abdominal pain, headaches, fever, diarrhea, bleeding from the eyes, the bubonic plague, locusts, tornadoes, and possibly death. But it doesn’t matter that medicines actually do what they are supposed to do. It also doesn’t matter that the odds of having any serious side effect are worse than being struck by lightning or winning the lottery, and that the most serious side effect you’re likely to have from taking ibuprofen is that your headache will go away.

I get it. Vaccines contain scary-sounding ingredients like aluminum and formaldehyde. And you heard from a friend that they cause autism. And you also read on some alternative medicine website that vaccines don’t actually work and that clean water and better sanitation actually made the diseases go away. But it makes absolutely no difference that the amount of aluminum in a vaccine is less than you’d find in a piece of fruit, and that the amount of formaldehyde in a vaccine is far less than would normally be found in your body right now since it is a natural byproduct of metabolism. And it makes even less difference that studies of millions of children have found no link between vaccines and autism. And you completely ignore the fact that vaccines do, in fact, work exactly like they’re supposed to for the vast majority of people who get them and have prevented hundreds of millions of deaths.

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I get it. Natural remedies are natural. And natural just has to be better. It doesn’t matter that natural is essentially meaningless. Cyanide and uranium and smallpox are natural. Castoreum, the vanilla flavoring that is so reviled among the “natural” folks, is made from the castor glands of a beaver (look it up). That’s as natural as it gets, though it’s admittedly rather icky. But that iPad you’re reading this on isn’t natural, it’s man-made. Does that make it bad?

I get it. Processed food sounds bad because it’s processed. You want to get back to how the cavemen ate—they ate only natural stuff and they were healthy, or so you think. It doesn’t matter that their average life expectancy was only 35 and yours is closer to 80.

I get it. You don’t want to ingest toxins because they’re just so…toxic. Even though you aren’t completely sure what those toxins are, you want to eliminate them from your body. There are so many options (searching Google for “detox” yields almost 74 million hits), so you could try Dr. Oz’s 3-day Detox Cleanse or a grape detox or a liquid fast. It doesn’t matter that your kidneys and liver and lungs are detoxing your body at this very second while you read this, for free. No special teas, herbs, fruits, or supplements needed.

I get it. You don’t want chemicals in your body. At least you think you don’t. You read the ingredients on the boxes in your pantry and are terrified by carrageenan, xanthan gum, mono- and diglycerides, and tocopherol. You think, “If I can’t pronounce it, I shouldn’t be eating it!” How about 3-methyl butyraldehyde and benzaldehyde? Those sure sound like scary chemicals! It doesn’t matter that every single thing in the entire universe is made of chemicals. It also doesn’t matter that all those scary-sounding ingredients have been thoroughly tested and are safe. And never mind the fact that 3-methylbutryaldehyde and benzaldehyde are just perfectly natural chemicals found in blueberries that give them their unique flavor.

I get it. Acupuncture has been around seemingly forever, and millions of people use it every day. The same goes for reiki, ayurveda, faith healing, naturopathy, chiropractic, and homeopathy. Your neighbor and sister-in-law and that guy who works in the cubicle next to you all swear by them for everything from acne to gout to cancer. And besides, they’re all safe and harmless, unlike conventional medicine that can kill you. It doesn’t matter that none of those modalities has any good evidence showing it can treat any condition reliably. Yes, medicines have side effects, but that’s only because they have effects. No treatment that could potentially help you is 100 percent safe, and if anyone claims otherwise, you can be 100 percent assured it is fraud.

So yeah, I get it. It’s cool to be different. But if you are really interested in being different, try wearing pants on you head. Find some funky sunglasses. Sing off key. Buy a green-and-purple striped car. But don’t use alternative medicine instead of real medicine just because it’s not mainstream. Don’t believe what you read online just because some self-proclaimed health guru said it. And for god’s sake don’t think that you know as much as a doctor because you Googled something. Medical training takes up to a decade or longer (depending on the specialty), so a 0.452 second Google search does not substitute for consulting with an actual physician whose only interest is your health.

As for women, no amount of Googling will ever help me. I still don’t get them.