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Nutrition Support Blog: The Power of the Written Word and Medical Objectivity

Posted by SF8N at Jan 22, 2015 04:23 PM |
Nutrition Support Blog: The Power of the Written Word and Medical Objectivity

by Joe Krenitsky, MS, RDN

Works of great literature can evoke powerful emotions, stimulate thought, ignite passions and even draw you into another world.  Most of us have learned to expect to be disappointed in a movie that is based on a favorite book because cinema, even with modern special effects, usually pales in comparison to the vividness of our imagination.  The ability of the written word to capture the imagination, enchant the reader and foster sympathy with characters in a story has been used to influence thinking and even to catalyze social and political change. 

While it is enjoyable to be drawn into a story until you are part of the adventure, there is something to be said for the ability to recognize and examine the underlying messages and values that the author wanted to communicate.  A recent article about being aware of the messages within popular writing led me reflect about the particular potency of professional and medical literature to influence opinions. http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/dec/18/how-i-read/?insrc=wblu

Normally, we expect professional articles to be factual and objective.  Our training has focused on efficient comprehension of technical information, and years of memorization has often left us underprepared to evaluate and critique what we are reading.  The reality is that most of us are grateful for some stolen moments between responsibilities to read new information, and (if you are like me) are usually quite pleased with ourselves when we manage to stay awake and comprehend what we are reading.

However, it is important to remember that humans have a very difficult time remaining objective, even when dealing with professional and medical topics.  Years of research, writing, speaking, teaching and/or clinical practice will inevitably result in professional bias.  It is also not possible to deny the existence of commercial influences when research, conferences, speakers or writers are funded by manufacturers of enteral and parenteral nutrition products.  If a reader does not remain vigilant for bias, then you are defenseless against underlying messages that can start to twist your attitude without your consent, or awareness. 

I recommend that professionals read the above article on finding meaning behind literature.  If you want to read more, also see the author’s previous article on how to use a pen to arm yourself while you read. Then, check out our e-journal club for some samples of recent research where the conclusions may not match the actual results, or the details reveal some surprising revelations.  http://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/pub/dietitian/inpatient/dh/E-journal%20Club/E-journal%20club%20home.html

The next time you attend a conference or read a review article you can be prepared.  If you see suspect articles quoted as good research, you will be alert to consider what values and messages are being delivered.  Luckily, they have not figured out how to publish nutrition support articles in 3-D (yet?), because at least with movies, it somehow makes it worse to see my favorite books tormented on screen in 3-D :)


“To the scientist there is the joy in pursuing truth which nearly counteracts the depressing revelations of truth.”

-      H. P. Lovecraft

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