Got Gila Monsters?

A skeptical mind is the best way to prevent stupid misconceptions



Do you know Napoleon was really of an average height? That low intensity workouts may not burn more calories than heart-pounding sweaty ones? That NO hair product can repair split ends? Or, being exposed to cold temperatures won’t make you “catch a cold?” Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but I bet if you read the List Of Common Misconceptions you’ll unlearn something you thought was true.

Humans assign credibility when a fact comes from a trusted source. They just pass along something they read or heard, assuming its true. Why would the source lie? The point is, most sources don’t lie, they accept a fact as true when they heard it and they unwittingly pass it on. We sense the sincerity in what they say, take it for truth, and then share it at a later time.

Perhaps we hear something odd from a pundit. It just doesn’t sound right, but since everyone else seems to be buying this messiah’s line, we decide the majority is smarter and we shelve our personal doubts. This is called ‘Groupthink.’

And this week brought us the Andrew Wakefield scandal. Wakefield, a one-time U.K. research physician now stripped of his license, ‘proved’  in 1998 there was a link between childhood vaccines and autism. Dr Wakefield profited well from this controversy as he discouraged thousands of parents from vaccinating their children. Medical science could not replicate his reseach findings. Wakefield continued to promote his threory until his fraud was unvieled this week. One wonders how many children got sick or died from the misconception he intentionally promoted. Sad to say, but many people STILL cling to Wakefield’s nonsense.

And thus society staggers under misconceptions that are silly, expensive or outright dangerous.



When my sons were young, one of their favorite books was ‘Gila monsters meet you at the airport.’ A delightful story of a pending family move to Arizona. The little boy was afraid. He knew there were dangerous lizards there — right at the airport — and he was afraid to go. “I read it in a book, so I know it’s so!” he said over and over. Eventually, he finds out for himself that this isn’t true. Arizona turns out to be a beautiful place.

Adults are no different:. You have ‘gila monsters,’ too. In your community … your circle of friends … your head. A mindset of perpetual doubt is the best way to fend them off.

“Large Skepticism leads to large understanding. Small skepticism leads to small understanding. No skepticism leads to no understanding.” — Xi Zhi


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