When a patient is their own advocate

Patient advocacy is generally thought of as when an individual or organisation advocates, argues for and supports a patient or a group of patients. But what about when the patient is willing and able to be their own advocate? This seems to be a more difficult situation primarily because we are emotional beings. Unresolvable health conditions can quickly lead to feelings of desperation, and desperate people often make poor choices.

This blog aims to help me understand what might be occurring deep inside my body. It helps me resolve not only what I want to feel about it all, but also what I want to do about it, if anything. I was dissatisfied with the information that was readily available (about ovarian insufficiency) from my doctor(s) and via quick google sessions (or even hours of searching, to be honest). So, I’m pleased to share any information I can distil from the somewhat more impenetrable scientific literature in case it helps another woman with ovarian insufficiency. So you can say that I am an advocate for women with ovarian insufficiency. But I’m not very loud about it. The main reason I am anonymous on this blog, and don’t share it as widely as I could, is that I’m wary of being seen as arrogant and ‘out of place’.

Delving into any area of science is a huge task. Combine that with the basic human foibles of endless hope or fearful hypochondria and things can go a little awry. When you’re feeling hopeful you don’t want to read some science that will dash those hopes, and when you’ve given in to fear you can get carried away with doom and gloom and focus too much on the possibilities of ‘what can go wrong’. Taking things slowly, yet with dogged persistence does seem to pay off though. And of course, it pays to moderate any enthusiasm, arrogance or worry.

I think I’m doing ok with it. I don’t spend much time learning about ovaries these days but considering that the condition doesn’t affect me much, and there is not much science being done in the area, then that strategy sounds wise. Of course I wish there were more science being carried out and I’ll be sure to grasp onto any new and exciting developments, if they happen. And I will try not to worry too much about being seen as arrogant.

Something that encouraged me was reading this amazing story. It’s about a patient with a very rare disease (much more rare than ovarian insufficiency), who dedicated herself to learning all that she could about her disease. Doctors dismissed her speculations on her own condition more than once, but in the end she was on the right track and her dedication has paid off not only by informing her own health but also that of others.

It’s so refreshing to find a story like this. It’s so uplifting to know that searching out reliable information can help, and that a patient can even do this on their own, till they find a researcher who can actually deliver the evidence that will move things forward.

P.S. A good advocate group for infertility of all types is:

(US based)



Women’s health eco tips

There was an interesting article in the latest New Scientist magazine about women being able to incubate their own IVF embryos. The procedure is called Intravaginal Culture and uses a special device to carry out fertilisation (bringing the sperm and oocytes together) that is then inserted into the woman’s vagina for maturation of embryos. The new scientist article was reporting on this trial which showed that this technique works just as well as traditional IVF. There are a few advantages of using the patient’s own body to grow these embryos but one that struck me instantly, and not mentioned explicitly by the authors, is that this method is more eco-friendly! Labs are expensive to run, and use a lot of electricity in addition to other materials (often quite a lot of disposable plastics). Incubators are used to create the right growing conditions for cells, and it’s often a tricky process to carefully maintain these conditions. Thankfully someone had the bright idea that those conditions were under our noses the whole time (literally).

My other eco tip is more widely relevant and personally relevant to me this week! In December I noted that my menstruation seemed to be coming more regularly and the good news is that that trend has continued : ) Yesterday I got my period again and after only 34 days!! I was really excited about that, and I’m happy to take it as a sign that my ovaries are up to something (hopefully trying to incubate their own follicles). So to celebrate, today I got myself a ‘treat’, I purchased my very first menstrual cup. I’d heard about these a while ago, as an alternative to disposable feminine hygiene products, but they are somewhat pricey, and I didn’t have much need for one last year.

IMG_20160118_175248 (1)
This is just a pic of the packaging, I was too excited and tried it out straight away

I can’t give a full review of the cup yet, as it’s my first day using it but I’m expecting it to be easier than tampons (you remove it less often), more hygienic (menstrual blood is flushed down the toilet instead of going into the rubbish/trash) and best of all creating less waste (not disposable and easily washed, hooray!).

I know some people are still going to be ‘grossed out’ over the whole thing and that is unfortunate, although not something that I’m concerned with really. I might have mentioned this before but it struck me as odd that where I was living in the states (just a few years ago), it was almost impossible to buy tampons without applicators. I know I tried using an applicator when I was a teenager but found that rather than making the process easier it just got in the way. So the applicator just ends up being an irrelevant piece of trash. Anyway, if you’re like me and not shy about touching your genitals (even if they have a little shed endometrium on them) and if you like the idea of creating less waste then these cups are a good idea. There are quite a few brands available and this Australian site has some tips on choosing one.

I’ll let you know how mine goes. So far I can report that they insert easier than you think! Mostly though, I’m happy to think that I’ll get a lot of use out of mine this year (fingers crossed for regular menstruation*) or not… (will regular menstruation lead to ovulation, which could lead to … pregnancy? yikes!).

*The last doctor I got advice from cautioned me against using the word ‘menstruation’ as he preferred to think of my vaginal bleeds as something a little more mysterious. I’m not assuming that I’m ovulating, but I’ll happily call this menstruation if they continue to appear every month. After all, language is fluid and biology is confusing.

Back in the game! And a word on identity

Which game? The game of life! That might sound a bit dramatic but that was how I felt last Friday when I heard I have a new job. Being unemployed and also not a mother had left me a little adrift. It’s been more than a year since I had a paid job. It took quite a while to become comfortable with the situation, and even quite a while to figure out why I was uncomfortable. I should have been happy, my last job sucked* so now I was free. My time was my own, I had the luxury of starting all those rainy day projects that I had been meaning to get around to. And I had time to figure out what the next steps in my life were going to be, instead of rushing into something that I wouldn’t really enjoy.

*The job itself wasn’t that bad, it was however, a terrible fit for me at the time and certain aspects of it drove me crazy no matter how hard I tried to not worry about them.

gone are the days of dressing like a hobo…..well, reduced, anyway

Instead of enjoying my time and exploring new exploits I spent many days in a funk, bummed out and generally not feeling very inspired. Even though I’m an independent spirit it can still be hard to be self-motivated. At the same time I was recovering from the knowledge that my ovaries were no good. I’m truly sorry if this offends anyone, but even though I’m in my mid-thirties, having children still seemed like a fall-back option to me. This is not a sentiment that I’ve come across on any other ‘infertility blog’! It’s not that I’m specifically looking for a child-free lifestyle, rather that I wanted to find my own sense of purpose before becoming a mother. I never saw myself as the ‘mothering-type’. Some friends have actually commented that this would work in my favour as I would not likely turn out as a ‘helicopter parent’.

When I was a teenager I struggled with the question of ‘what do you want to become?’. I was good at school so my choices should have been many, but for whatever reason I had trouble visualising becoming any particular profession. In the end I chose science because I was looking for something useful and interesting. Fast forward a few years (or decades?!) and I found myself with a failed science career, the inability to cope with a well paying yet mind-fuck of a 9-5 job and infertility. The infertility seemed like another nail in the coffin. I wanted a really stimulating science career, but that didn’t work out so I compromised and got a more standard job, but that didn’t work out so I thought ‘at least I can provide my family with children’. My feelings of failure were not so much along the lines of ‘I am built to bear children and that is my role as a woman’, as ‘I tried to have a career before I had children and now I don’t have either!’. I found myself back in the same place, mentally, as when I was a teenager, wondering what my place in the world was and doubting what I had to offer.

And it’s hard when your friends are busy with their own stuff. Their own careers and their own family-building. All of my friends are wonderful women (the lads are OK too), and many of them maintain an interesting job as well as looking after their children. I’m sure it’s not easy, and I guess I could be an object of envy, living a life of leisure, without the ‘hassles’. However, life isn’t all beer and skittles, at least not my version of life. In fact, if you had a chance to try it (living a life of leisure), you’d see as well. We all need a sense of purpose. For some, building a loving family can be enough, and I pass no judgement on that, really. For me, I want something else, and then I’d love to have children so that I can help them find their something else too.

The funny thing is, that this job has come along at a time when I’d brushed aside my doubts and insecurities and was starting to feel quite purposeful in the many little activities I have going on. I’ve learnt to stop saying “oh, nothing” when someone asks me what I’ve been up to lately. Even if I’ve just been pottering in the garden since they’ve seen me last; it’s learning, and smile-inducing, and definitely ‘growing something’! And hubby and I have been talking more and more about our dream of having a small business, so we’ll keep growing that too. And I no longer have days where all I have done (apart from housework, which is definitely too boring to mention), is mope about my various failures or shortcomings. Maybe who I am and what I choose to do is a little more difficult to explain to people, but that’s ok too.

It took some time but I learnt to love my lifestyle of continual learning, and efficient resourcing, and music and good friends and new things every day. Now I get the chance to contribute to science once more with this new job (hurrah!) and the best thing is that it’s part-time, so I can keep the other dreams and me-affirming activities going too 🙂

Now I can say what I ‘do’ for a job, as well as telling people about my hipster craft efforts such as this leaf garland

A little sex education, please

These days when browsing news anything to do with ‘women’s health’ or reproduction (involves males too!) is likely to catch my eye. Including this piece about ‘virgin births’(!) Spoiler: virgin births are still impossible (in humans), this may be disappointing to some single women, sorry. What really got my attention wasn’t the possibility of some amazing biological discovery, but the sad insight into the lack of sex education and its consequences. If there is one thing that is sadder than infertility, it is an unwanted child (I realise this might prompt questions of “why don’t you adopt?”, but that’s a question that deserves its own blog post). In the study, parents of girls with ‘virgin pregnancies/births’ were more likely to state that they “didn’t have enough knowledge to discuss sex and contraception with their daughters”. For me this was a bit of a WTF?! moment, but then I’ve had the privilege of a good sex education. Growing up in Australia I received formal sex education in grade 5 (age 9/10); year 7 (age 11/12); year 9 (age 13/14) and a bit more thrown in for good measure in the last few years of high school. I’m sure the classes are even higher quality now than they were when I was growing up in the 80s/90s.

This made me think of something that is even dearer to my heart than women’s health, and that is science communication. I’m qualified as a scientist, but I’m not currently in paid employment as a scientist. There are just not enough research jobs to go around. And there is a lack of jobs because there is a lack of funding. I personally believe that there should be increased funding for scientific research, both from governments and industry. It is not just that I’d like a job, I genuinely believe that more money for better research, leads to new technologies/methods/insights that can improve quality of life for us all (non-scientists included, even non-humans included). The whole thing is obviously hugely more complicated than that, and I could rave on this topic for a long time, but basically if more people were interested at looking at things in a scientific way (aka with increased scientific literacy) then we can all get more out of this useful tool we call science.

But how to get people interested in something that they’re not really interested in (for a whole bunch of reasons)? It’s really tricky.

I often wonder if ‘making it personal’ might make a difference? It sounds shallow but most of us are mostly interested in things that directly affect/are involved in our day to day lives. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially with the hugely busy lives that most of us lead these days. Sitting down to read the newspaper over a relaxed morning has largely been replaced by quickly reading some headlines on social media, for example. If you have an issue that affects your daily comfort/enjoyment in life would you be more willing to learn a little of the relevant background science? As an example, I’m not a botanist but I have a friend who teaches Botany at University and I’m always impressed with her recall of Latin plant names. Then I got my very own garden for the first time (after many years of renting, and often in apartments), and I got the chance to choose some new plants for the garden. I chose native plants for various different reasons. Not on my mind however, was learning about the botany of Australian plant groups, but along the way I have anyway, and my knowledge of Australian plant families has recently doubled or even more. Who knew Eremophila species were so varied? Knowing more names, and being able to recognise these plants in other gardens has made the whole thing more enjoyable for me. And now that I have personal involvement in the area, it’s easy.

To get back to the topic above, what could be more personal than sex? Haha. Really though, I’m a strong believer that sex is an important part of enjoying life. Anyone reading this who is half of an infertile couple will know that your sex life is bound to suffer, ours certainly has along the way. It can be as simple as a lack of spontaneity due to timed copulation or more serious emotional damage based on feelings of failure etc. And because it’s an emotional topic, it can be hard to talk about. That goes for sex, and even more so for infertility. Anyway, science really can help, I promise. One of my favourite science communication examples is how much more we know about the clitoris these days. It boggles the mind to think that we didn’t even properly know the structure of the clitoris until recently! Finding this out really reinforced for me the importance of knowing my own anatomy and how that knowledge can lead to a more pleasurable life 🙂

Find out more about the clitoris here and here.

Shield bugs, doing it

How many eggs do you have? Or why i don’t worry about ovarian reserve.

Months ago, I set up a Google Scholar alert (it’s easy!) to keep on top of any science mentioning ‘Anti-Mullerian hormone’. This means that I regularly get an email alert of newly published studies/articles. It’s a broad search term, there are dozens of new articles each month, and a lot of them are not relevant/interesting, but I’ll aim to discuss any interesting findings about ovarian failure/insufficiency here.

Here is an article (1) that caught my eye recently. The article raises the problem of defining the term ‘Diminished Ovarian Reserve’ (DOR). I actually found this funny, because I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that whatever is going on with my ovaries, it’s hard to know what to call it. And funny that they chose this term to try and define, because it’s not one that I like to use, for what I think are pretty good reasons. The unfortunate thing is that the authors seem unaware of the term ‘ovarian insufficiency’ (although I haven’t read the full article, just the abstract), because this is my favourite word to describe my ovaries. The terms I could chose from are: primary/premature ovarian failure, ovarian insufficiency, DOR and also LFOR (low functional ovarian reserve). Some articles also discuss ‘poor responders’ for women like me, although I’d prefer to take that term at face value, and use it for women who have had a chance to respond to something! The term is used when women have had a failed response to a stimulated cycle, whereas I’ve never tried assisted reproduction (I’m not a good candidate and I’m not really into gambling, at least not with these odds).

The authors (Cohen et al.) also state that the term POF is clearly defined. This is not the case, as I’ve mentioned above it even stands for two slightly different terms: Primary Ovarian Failure or Premature Ovarian Failure. More importantly though, POF is not a single disease. I’ve cited a great article by Lawrence M. Nelson before, and I’ll do that again here (2), where he states that POF/POI is “a rare disease consisting of multiple ultra-rare diseases”. What that means is that although the outcome is the same in these cases (non-functioning ovaries, in that ovulation is not occurring), the underlying causes are many and varied. As far as I know, it was Dr. Nelson who came up with the newer term of ‘ovarian insufficiency’, prompted by the adverse emotional aspects of patients being told that their ‘ovaries had failed’, especially when total ‘failure’ is not always the outcome.

So I prefer ‘insufficiency’ to ‘failure’ but I also prefer it to any mention of my ovarian reserve. Why is that? Because I have no idea what my reserve is! This is a good explanation of ‘ovarian reserve’:
“When clinicians and zootechnicians talk about ovarian reserve, they usually refer to this dynamic reserve of small antral follicles. However, the wording ‘‘ovarian reserve’’ can be confusing, since the growing follicles themselves develop from a first reserve of primordial follicles, which is constituted early in life”; from here (3). Basically, when some mention ‘ovarian reserve’ they are talking about growing follicles, the ones you can see with a vaginal ultrasound, but these arise from smaller (less than a millimeter) follicles, which are your true ‘reserve’.

The problem is, as stated here “There is a good reason for the paucity of knowledge of human ovarian reserve throughout life: direct longitudinal assessment is currently impossible, and is likely to remain impossible for the foreseeable future. No in vivo technique for counting NGFs [non-growing follicles] exists. All studies involving the estimation of NGF populations for ovaries at various chronological ages have analysed tissue post-mortem or post-oophorectomy” (4). In other words, the only way you can count your actual ovarian reserve is take out an ovary; cut it up; and measure the very very small follicles under a microscope.

The article quoted from above (Kelsey et al. 2012) then goes on to give evidence that measuring the ‘dynamic pool’ is still a good approximation. The authors assert that measuring the follicles that we can see, or anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) in a blood sample, should still tell us what the actual ovarian reserve of a woman might be. Therefore, doctors make these measurements and might talk about ‘ovarian reserve’ and might even make all sort of simplifications such as ‘you don’t have many eggs left’. By the way, there is also the controversial idea of ‘ovarian stem cells’, which might yet overturn the idea of ‘a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have’, which is worth a passing mention even if it hasn’t been proven in human subjects yet.

When I first started looking into all this, I was surprised by how little was known about how ovaries functioned. I really shouldn’t have been. I’ve worked as a scientist myself, and in all areas of biology the fundamental processes at play are usually only sketched out. We’d like to think that we have a lot of it worked out (whether it is human biology, or agricultural science or anything else we’ve been researching for a while) but the truth is that science is really expensive, and we often don’t have the right equipment/techniques to shine a light.

Essentially, the technology that we have at the moment has shown us that over a population we see lower numbers of growing follicles and smaller amounts of AMH as women age, and that this correlates with their declining numbers of non-growing follicles, their ovarian reserve. And once again, I’m aware of my bias. I am not growing many follicles, I have very very low AMH (and high FSH). So I’d like to think that there is more to it than this correlation.

And maybe there is…
Another article (5) that caught my eye this month looked into follicle dynamics (how many were growing over the course of a month) of two groups of women; women of mid-reproductive age (MRA, 18-35) or advanced reproductive age (ARA, 45-55). None of the women were menopausal (even though the average age of menopause is around 50), they all had fairly regular cycles and were ovulating. The thing that really stood out to me was that all of the older women had low AMH (<1 ug/L) and 50% of this group had undetectable AMH. This is to be expected, in this age range. BUT these women were ovulating and were seen to be growing plenty of small follicles as well (each time you ovulate there is more than one follicle growing).

Maybe it doesn’t mean much, it was only a small study. Also, they only followed women with regular cycles, so women like me are still in the dark as to what our ovary dynamics might look like. Certain women were not included in the study because they ‘developed a lag phase of follicle development’, defined as no follicles larger than 6mm growing 20 days after either menstruation or ovulation*. This to me sounds a lot like intermittent ovulation/recruitment of follicles, which is not supposed to happen! But which could be what is going on in my case? We’ll only ever know with more research, I guess.

So my lack of growing follicles means I’m not likely to fall pregnant, and my low AMH probably does signal that something is not quite as it should be. I’m not convinced that this means that I’ve used up my egg supply early though. For all I know there could be thousands still there yet they are stubbornly refusing to grow. So while ‘insufficient’ might mean ‘insufficient eggs’ to some people, to me it means that the functioning of my ovaries is insufficient, but there are plenty of things that can go wrong to cause that unlucky state.

*we now know that follicles don’t just grow in the ‘follicular’ phase after menstruation. This article in fact was looking at follicles that start growing in the luteal phase.

  1. Cohen et al. 2015 ‘Diminished ovarian reserve, premature ovarian failure, poor ovarian responder – a plea for universal definitions’. Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, pg. 1-4; DOI 10.1007/s10815-015-0595-y
  2. Nelson, L. M.,  2011 ‘One world, one woman: a transformational leader’s approach to primary ovarian insufficiency’. Menopause. 18(5): 480-487; DOI 10.1097/GME.0b013e318213f250
  3. Monniaux, D., et al. 2014 ‘The ovarian reserve of primordial follicles and the dynamic reserve of antral growing follicles: what is the link?’. Biology of Reproduction. 90(4): 1-11; DOI 10.1095/biolreprod.113.117077
  4. Kelsey, T.W., et al. 2012 ‘Data-driven assessment of the human ovarian reserve’. Molecular Human Reproduction. 18(2): 79-87; DOI 10.1093/molehr/gar059
  5. Vanden Brink, H., et al. 2015 ‘Associations between antral ovarian follicle dynamics and hormone production throughout the menstrual cycle as women age’ Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. in press; DOI 10.1210/jc.2015-2643
these are for baking, not growing
these are for baking, not growing

Exploring the Cochrane library for health information

This post follows on from my earlier post about research. When researching a new topic I ‘dive into the deep end’ by using Google Scholar. The coverage (how much of the literature is captured) of Google Scholar is extensive, sometimes too extensive. In other words, Google Scholar will return a lot of search results but not all of them will be high quality research publications. This can be a problem for the novice researcher.

If you want a quicker (scientific and evidence based) answer on a health related question I would suggest the Cochrane library. The Cochrane collaboration exists to provide the highest possible level of evidence that can be used to inform healthcare decisions. The Cochrane library is a resource that can be used by anyone interested in researching health related material. I first heard about Cochrane via learning about Cochrane reviews. These are systematic reviews of a topic area (eg. use of a particular drug/intervention in a particular disease) that provide up to date as well as the most accurate answers in that area. Basically, if multiple high-level studies have been carried out in a particular area, a Cochrane review will determine if these studies can be compared to yield an overall conclusion. The best part is that a ‘Plain language summary’ will be provided, so that the conclusions are communicated as widely as possible.

The Cochrane library includes more than the systematic reviews though, for instance there is also a database that covers reports from randomised controlled trials (called CENTRAL). This resource is particularly useful if you are looking to find out about a drug. As an example, if you search for ‘dehydroepiandrosterone’ (DHEA) in the CENTRAL database (in advanced search, limit to ‘trials’) you will get 826 results (current to July 2015). That may sound like a lot of abstracts to sift through but if you search the same term in Google Scholar you will get over 85 thousand results. Many of these will not be trials, plenty of them will be studies to find out what DHEA does in the body, seeing as it is produced by our bodies. The CENTRAL database is also useful when looking into new treatments/investigations as these may not be well established enough to warrant a review yet.

Just the other day I used the Cochrane library to answer a quick health query. Earlier that week I had been pushing myself to exercise a little more. One of my old excuses to avoid exercising was that I sometimes get post-exercise headaches. These are probably due to dehydration, perhaps sometimes from too much sun (good sunglasses help) but other times I can’t account for why I get them. Then I found that if I take an ibuprofen pill beforehand it seems to be prophylactic. But that week I had taken a pre-walk ibuprofen each day for three days and then on the fourth day my stomach was ever so slightly upset. I knew that any NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) were harmful to your stomach, although I thought that ibuprofen was less damaging than others. It was enough for me to be curious, and besides, I was procrastinating to put off exercise! So I quickly searched the Cochrane library and found this gem: Kohrt et al. 2010 (from the CENTRAL database).

I had no idea that ibuprofen usage might be affecting my bone density! Seeing as I should be looking to increase my bone density (a concern with ovarian insufficiency, but for any woman really), or at least slow any decrease in bone density, this study caught my eye. It was enough to remind me to not make excuses when I knew I would actually enjoy my bone-building walk up the mountain, and to help me decide that I should wait till after my exercise to assess whether I want to take an ibuprofen or not.

In this case my ‘problem’ was a trivial matter, and serious health concerns warrant more cautiously thought out decisions (including real medical advice, from a real doctor). Also, sometimes there just won’t be answers unfortunately. Speaking of which, here is where you will find all of the Cochrane reviews in the group that covers infertility (subfertility), as well as menstrual disorders. Still, I was pleased to see that this resource could be used to quickly inform me of a healthier way to go about my normal daily activity.

Who is allowed to talk about science?

do you need hair this neat to talk about science? image credit: http://www.scienceimage.csiro.au/
do you need hair this neat to talk about science?
image credit: http://www.scienceimage.csiro.au/

Before starting this blog I thought long and hard about the responsibility of science communication. This blog was started as a way for me to consolidate my growing understanding of a health issue of mine*. If gathering sources of evidence to help me learn and make choices also helps someone else with this rare condition (POI affects about 1% of women of my age, fewer women at younger ages) then that’s great. But I’ll always need to stress that none of this is advice. I am in no way an authority on ovarian health, female fertility, human reproduction or even human biology. After my initial medical appointments I had to look up ‘luteal phase’, ‘dominant follicle’ etc etc (Wikipedia is fantastic for these ‘revision’ type questions, where you know there is a textbook answer).

That leads to my next point; accepting knowledge from an authority is not the only way to learn. This is what a research degree (such as a masters or a PhD) teaches you; how to assimilate and analyse information to come to new and interesting conclusions. I’ve been lucky enough to complete my PhD and gain some additional research experience after that, and I’m sure my research skills have improved greatly along the way. But certain aspects remain difficult. That sounds like a negative point but it also highlights something quite positive. I believe that anyone can research, anyone can delve deeply into a subject that they are motivated to learn about. No promises that it won’t leave you feeling mentally fatigued, or that you will be rewarded with answers/conclusions. If done properly I can guarantee that you will be left with more questions than you started with. Each time I research a new topic area there is a huge learning curve purely because of lots of new material. I would hazard a guess that the mountains of information are predominantly what dissuade people from research in the first place. I advise students to get their head around the language of a subject area first, build a glossary if you will, and half your learning curve will be conquered.

Not only do I believe that people are generally capable of research, I also wish that more people were interested in doing so. Oh boy, this topic could really get me ranting and it’s a hugely complex area that deserves more than a flippant blog post… Suffice to say, I think that more people being interested in science, learning about science, discussing science and contributing to science is a wonderful idea. So I was a little disappointed to see this on social media:
Context: there is a battle going on between ‘science advocates’ and ‘pseudoscience’. The battleground is social media. I 100% understand where Biology Babe is coming from. Certain businesses thrive off sounding sort of scientific in order to sell stuff (cosmetics, ‘eco’ products, food, news). People (including science advocates) ask for claims to be supported by evidence. Then things get a little murky. There are, indeed, some dicks out there.

What disappointed me was the thought that someone would be dissuaded from even dipping their toe into the vast resources available. Some people misuse scientific references in order to sell a product, others may simultaneously misunderstand a scientific reference (or two) while having an emotional reaction to a subject and subsequently miscommunicate science. I see both of these things as fairly inevitable. People will always want to sell you something (even if just an idea) and we are ALL emotional beings (yes! Scientists too!). The real issue lies in the next step. The next step should be carefully considered discussion and I personally would like to see more people getting involved.

The main trick of course is scepticism, but not just scepticism applied to what you are reading, but also scepticism applied to your own understanding. You have to be prepared for continual learning and readjustment of old ideas. You have to be aware of your own biases, how your hopes and worldview might affect your convictions. And you have to be prepared for questions. It’s all really mature stuff.

Alternatively, more often than not we won’t want a thing to do with any of the ‘source material’ (the actual scientific data) and instead are looking for more easily digestible material to learn from. In a future post (soon! maybe tomorrow!) I’ll post some of the best resources that I know of for learning about biological stuff.

*Balanced by discussion of something I find uplifting, sustainability