Monday, January 18, 2016

Selfish Behavior Can Limit Bias

We all like to cheat. We all should be cheating. Cheating is expected, because people should be selfish. The Dan Ariely TED Talk discusses the different scenarios in which cheating is more likely to occur. While he seeks different explanations rooted in societal behaviors, it boils down into a simple fact. Those who do not cheat see a benefit to themselves greater than what they would gain from cheating. Individual concern with your public persona are valued more than the physical money that is available to you. The degree to which people are prone to cheat depends on the risk to reward relationship of the scenario, we will always make the most selfish choice.
With selfishness in mind, I am not surprised that the majority of new “cures for cancer” are overhyped as described in "Half of the cancer drugs journalists called "miracles" and "cures" were not approved by the FDA". News outlets seek to boost their profile by giving the public what they want. Doctors promising cures are actually laughable, my interactions with doctors have demonstrated that they have a poor understanding of biochemistry and biophysics, and rarely understand the scope of science they would require to even begin to be viable sources of credibility. They promise hope because they can then feel good about themselves for potentially easing a patient's mind. Selfishness drives their motives, and pushes forward a bias to relay positive results.
Good scientists are trained to treat results with skepticism, to doubt everything, and to avoid excitement without mountains of supporting data. We are taught that we can only ever disprove a theory; we can never conclusively state something as proven. Despite this, we always want to present our data with a specific angle in mind. We want to cheat the system by showing the data we choose, because then we can communicate our story and our beliefs. We selfishly push our own agendas and seek the greatest impact for our work, so that we then become more important.

So who ends up at fault for cancer drugs being biased towards miracle cures? The only people at fault are those who believe it. We are responsible for our own conclusions, and for adhering to the most selfish practices possible. If the public holds everyone to a higher standard, perhaps bias can then be reduced.

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