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.