I have been catching up on this programme, as I missed a few episodes. I wrote about episode 1 — and particularly the Quantified Self aspects of it — previously, but episodes 2 and 3 got me thinking about the programme more generally.
As I said, I like Michael Mosley, and I like the idea of this show: subjecting to critical, scientific scrutiny some of the health and well-being myths and contradictory advice in an easily accessible way is in itself a public service. I do worry a little about the very title of the show, though.
Socially, we put a lot of faith in medical science, and doctors have significant authority. Is the title of this show supposed to be ironic? It is inviting us to question, but to question under the guidance of the panel of doctors. Even if it is supposed to be ironic, it’s a mixed message. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate turning to pseudo-doctors like Gillian McKeith instead! But I do think the tension of this show shows up a general habit of abdicating responsibility for critical thought to someone ‘qualified’. We’re all qualified for self-care in the general course of life, and we should all know our own bodies (and minds) better than a doctor.
For example, when a GP confidently asserts that the dulled hearing in my ear — which I have had for at least a year — is definitely hayfever, he is wrong. He has no interest in me, the actual facts about my body, or how to help me. He is interested in approximating my body to a hypothetical body, diagnosing this hypothetical body according to a knee-jerk response (‘experience’, he would call it), and in getting me out of the door as quickly as possible convinced that he has assisted me and done his job. He is wrong, and more troubling, he is deluded about himself and the work he is doing.
Again, don’t get me wrong. There are lots of good doctors! But we shouldn’t assume that each and every one that we meet will be good. Trust and respect should be earned. I’ve written before about the work of Ben Goldacre and others in examining the medical profession’s underside, where it is not science-based or acting in patients’ best interests. I do wonder whether programmes like Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, which don’t at least touch on the fact that medical professionals must take some responsibility for the prevalence of myths around health and well-being, may be doing us a disservice by building false confidence in doctors.