TIL in Medical School—Doctors have myths too.

Today I Learned in Medical School:

Doctors have medical myths too! According to my prof, many doctors believe that aspiration (having stuff go down into the lungs) causes anaerobic pneumonia, but that is rarely the case. He says that myth is often taught resident-to-student, but it isn’t actually backed up by any research, and isn’t true. The kicker—if the doctor would stop to think about it, it should jump out as unintuitive – it would take some serious changes inside the *lung* to make an *anaerobic* infection – an infection of bacteria that thrive in areas with no oxygen. In reality it takes frequent aspirations over a long period of time to block off an area of the lungs.

I think the moral of this story (though this just may be preaching to the choir here at LW) – all people, be they doctors or kindergarteners, don’t usually check facts they’re taught, especially when being taught by an authoritative teacher. Unless they’re lead to discover/​derive a fact themselves, they usually assimilate it into their network of beliefs as a brute fact – “carbon has four valence electrons,” “don’t end a sentence with a preposition,” “in 1492 Columbus discovered America.”

Now, you frequently don’t have enough time to “learn it the hard way” or derive an answer yourself. If I had to read every single research publication that populated the facts in my textbooks, I might not ever graduate. However, it is important to remember that you’ve taken shortcuts for most of your education (and religion/​lack thereof, and life in general) – and if some fact ever later strikes you as being odd, look into it. Otherwise, we’re just playing the telephone game.