What an eye-opening time we live in! I say that semi-sarcastically, tongue-in-Big Mouth-cheek.
But really, how fast things can change, and how wide the ripples caused by simple decisions can go!
Recently, I came into a podcast quite hot after a local radio appearance got me upset. The thesis: words matter, and those of us with ANY influence in our communities or even social groups have a responsibility to be the POSITIVE change we need to see in life, using language and messaging responsibly.
No sooner did that recording finish that the CDC posted a statement about the airborne nature of COVID. Then retracted it.
This flub, itself, wasn’t the problem. It was the vicious attack on the CDC from all walks of life that followed.
This may be a controversial statement, considering how many folks have died and how many lives have been turned upside down, but here it is: the damage being done to institutions is a far worse consequence of COVID than anything else.
In today’s rant, I’ll tell you why, and then give my solution to a better world. Again.
Let’s Set the Stage: The CDC Flip Flop Flub
Without a doubt, I believe the WHO and CDC need better PR people. I think that there have been a number of times that information has been put forth that could have been held or clarified a bit better.
I mean, we rush our articles out the gate, but that’s because I enjoy procrastination. No excuse for these guys.
The other side to that is we have a lot more people paying attention and giving commentary who aren’t trained in this stuff. More on that later.
Any-who… The CDC made a post about the airborne nature of COVID. Our current understanding is the way it spreads is via respiratory droplets, and this is why masks and distancing work so well.
This is also why you don’t have to sand down your cardboard boxes from Amazon or Lysol your tomatoes any longer. You get sick if you get micro boogers directly in your face-hole, to put it technically…
In a surprise move to some, the CDC posted that there are tiny droplets that stay suspended in the air, meaning COVID is airborne. They suggested that we need to make modifications to indoor ventilation.
This would not be the first discussion about the potential aerosolized COVID risk, but right now a majority of experts are leaning towards it not being a major problem.
For the record, I believe that we’re about to find out how true that statement is or isn’t, really, as we head indoors. I personally believe there HAS to be some infectability or spread in an airborne manner. But, our experts who see the data are leaning towards the viral load of these particles are not sufficient enough to spread infection, and we go with that.
You know why? I’m a dummy and I’m not them. If the data changes, we will change. If the data stays the same, we must accept it. Use me and my thoughts as an example of how you should engage with this information.
Back to the importance of all of this: the CDC information got posted without the usual, proper review process, and then it was retracted. Oops.
Then everyone went nuts.
“Flip-flopping.” “Mixed messaging.” “Lies.” Yadda yadda yadda.
For some, it’s a stupid mistake. My note, again, to these organizations: Come on gang, this is REAL important to move slower and triple-check our work!
For some, it’s fodder for the anti-CDC cannon. “We can’t trust the science. The science bends to suit the narrative.”
Being a little Buddhist about it all, I ask, what’s real? What’s real is that an error was made, then corrected.
But, like most of life, there’s a story built around the events. To some, that’s a story that adds to their mythology.
“I Won’t Trust Any Vaccine Coming From This FDA”
I don’t know where I was when I heard this, but I did. Someone so worried about the politicization of the FDA that they felt the quality of the data being collected right now about a vaccine could not be trusted.
How dangerous is this sentiment?
This is why I believe the distrust in institutions is the biggest and most damaging deception to come from our pandemic.
How many lives could be lost if we don’t trust the FDA, CDC, or public health programs?
What happens the next time this happens? Are you going to wear a mask, or are you going to join the ranks of those who are going to sneer and say, “Yeah that’s what you said last time.”
Our distrust comes from past actions: greed, a lack of transparency, and agendas. Much of today’s distrust is a result of poor communication. With no central leadership, the mixed messaging has allowed the charlatans and renegades to build their own narrative.
The Real Problem
I’m going to take a strong stance here on the CDC flub. I don’t think it was an accident. I think that it was intentional.
The real problem is not the FDA, or the CDC, how big these groups are, past actions, or current mistakes. The real problem is that these organizations are able to be manipulated in the first place and turned into political vehicles.
I believe that there are bad faith actors in all walks of life who are actively trying to sow dissent. I see this with the “natural” vs “pharmaceutical” pseudo-dichotomy all day long.
These players have an agenda and it’s of the most dangerous threats we face.
Their actions are not swaying people from one side of the fence to the other, they’re intentionally knocking down the fence, injuring people as they fall, and then pointing at the institutions as the reasons for their pain.
I’m not just a ranty lunatic who’s hopped up on cookies (as it was my birthday and I went HAM on it :P).
Scott Gottlieb, ex-FDA chief, said that during the Trump administration, “it’s really hard to believe” that the CDC posting was made accidentally.
These pot-stirrers want—more than anything—for you NOT to trust experts. The “they” right now, in this conversation, is the current administration, I believe. The “they” often changes depending upon the situation.
In supplements, it could be any number of charlatans looking to prime your mind towards hating conventional medicines.
Do you think the adverse events associated with bone or cholesterol meds are REALLY that bad? Because if you do, it’s probably because someone has overplayed the reality. They often ignore some hard truths: the alternatives, like calcium carbonate or red yeast rice carry the same, if not greater risks, than the medicines themselves.
They tell these stories while intentionally breaking systems because it works.
The intentional manipulation of the data and promoting a contrarian narrative is training you. It’s training you to think a certain way. Enough headlines that say “Mask science questionable” would, without doubt, at least put that question in your mind. If someone who you then trusted, like comedian and non-medical expert Joe Rogan, has anti-mask beliefs, you bet your bottom dollar that you’re going to fall off that fence quite quickly.
The Real Real Problem
The real, real problem is us. We’re all watching and making judgments but we’re really not qualified to do so.
Why does the supplement industry bother me so much? Charlatans are promoting and consumers are regurgitating all the same old talking points: this is anti-inflammatory, this is for leaky gut, this helps adrenal fatigue, this is “quality.” The real academic discussion gets buried by marketing.
And most of the conversation is a damn lie anyway! Everyone’s saying the same stuff but none of it is right or accurate. They’re using made-up terms, using fake data, and talking about products that can’t possibly achieve the wellness outcomes they’re hyping up.
No one really knows what they’re talking about.
The same could be said of things like vaccine development or infectious disease. The academic discussion cannot happen because there are too many savvy, sexy marketers telling their sexy messages to people who are so overwhelmed, afraid, or fed up.
Attention is the modern currency and we must not give it to the worst among us.
Heaven forbid a science organization falters! We hold these groups to such high, yet inconsistent standards.
Here’s my fix: As you’ve seen me hit hard during COVID, I believe the answers start within us. We need to demand more of ourselves. How we engage with the 12 ring circus going on daily is UBER CRITICAL right now. Make your world smaller, find local experts that you trust that can advise you, and you can punch in the mouth if you find out they’re lying to you.
That’s the piece that’s missing, I believe. Being able to drive your car through the storefront of a business owner you don’t like. Metaphorically.
In modern society, someone from the UAE, Australia, or Ireland can connect with me. They listen to my podcast, read my blog, and follow my advice. And that’s awesome. It’s a powerful gift that could so very easily be abused.
I try my best to earn their trust and live with integrity. Most people don’t freakin’ do that, though! Since we’re so far from our “gurus,” we can’t put that social pressure on them that we can in our own towns and cities.
The other piece is that we have to realize that just because Eminem is talking to you and you really get down with what he’s saying, doesn’t mean you have a real relationship. These folks that are spreading bad information are hacking into old firmware within our brains that make us FEEL connected with them intimately.
Unplug from the machine. It’s the only fix.
The second solution, albeit harder, is going to be the longest-lasting one. It’s a systemic change that MUST come. We need open-source government and medicine.
Open Source Government and Medicine Now
Transparency has been a rallying cry of mine for a long time. I believe that we need greater insight into the raw data and the information decisions are made upon.
We need to be able to see the raw data from medical studies. We need to clearly see who’s involved and who’s pulling what strings.
We need to be able to know where our supplements are coming from, everything that they are tested for, how often they are tested, and we need to know the REAL risks of the ingredients found in our products.
Then, we need to take a big deep breath and realize that we may not be qualified to interpret that data.
The best part of open source software is that, in a functioning system, there are experts exploring the code and ensuring there’s no shady stuff going on.
We need THOSE people to be louder. Their interpretation of the data, their model for analysis, and the raw data itself are the three things that can move us closer to a reality where we can trust better.
Because, here, at the end of the day, we have to be honest and keep it real as I always do. We trust or distrust institutions based on the marketing we like to believe.
We point our fingers at the “other side” (because everything has “both sides” in 2020) and passionately defend our position. In reality, it’s a big stinking mess where a majority of people just want to do their job and barbeque on the weekend.
Most of us want to do what’s right, but we work and live in complex systems with corrupt and greedy other humans. They stink.
It gets better when we’re honest. When the information that is in abundance is right out there in front of all of us to see.
The system may be flawed, but we don’t want to bulldoze the buildings down until maybe we have another place to live. We certainly don’t want to allow the most corrupt among us to weaken the foundations and kick out the windows, then convince us the buildings are worthless. Remember, they sit, literally, in rooms of gold.
It’s time to draw a line in the sand that should NEVER be crossed: don’t break the system and then tell us to hate the system. Those lies are among the most evil.
It’s time to demand transparency in corrupt systems. It’s time to take responsibility for our consumption of information.
Just trying to keep it real…
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth