Do we still believe in science?Pseudo-scientific claims spread fear but we still trust doctors and science
Ljubljana, April 18 2018 – At “Do we still believe in science” round table, which took place at The Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, participants presented their views about the relationship between science and borderline science. The consensus was that despite a flood of pseudo-scientific claims, which strengthen doubts about modern medicine and spread fear among people, we still trust doctors and science. Even more – all public opinion research shows that scientists are among the most trustworthy professions in Slovenia. Nevertheless, the awareness needs to be raised and the public needs to be informed with credible information about the importance of prevention from contagious diseases and chronic non-contagious diseases, about medicine and vaccines safety, we also need to strengthen our belief in science and be diligent in pointing out misleading claims if we want to avoid negative consequences pseudo-scientific claims could have on public health.
The round table discussion, organized by Forum of International Research and Development Pharmaceutical Companies, EIG (Forum) had participants thinking about the reasons for and the consequences of ever more frequent expressions of distrust in modern medicine's achievements. In the past few years we have witnessed loud objections to mandatory vaccinations which are crucial for preventing contagious diseases from spreading. That is why Ministry of Health strengthened their communication activities about vaccination benefits, explained Mojca Gobec, dr. med., Director General at Directorate for Public Health and added: »Up until last year we were seeing a drop in vaccinations and this was especially alarming for chicken pox because the risk of importing this disease and it spreading is very real. That is why last year, in co-operation with paediatricians, we have launched intensive information campaign to raise awareness among expert and general publics and to reach those who really need these information. Ministry of Health ordered a comprehensive study to find out who the doubters are and what exactly worries them. The study showed that less than half of the mothers trust the vaccinations unconditionally but it also showed that there is a very small percentage of those who doubt the vaccinations and that about a third of parents are worried about vaccinations and wish they could have more information about them. These are exactly the people we need to provide more information and explanations to.”
Another public opinion study called Mirror of Slovenia, executed by Valicon, showed, that distrust in doctors grew significantly in 2016. At that time only 14% of people trusted doctors. The latest results of the same study, published at the beginning of April 2018, show that 40% of people now trust doctors while scientist are among the most trusted professionals, right behind fire-fighters and medical nurses. Andraž Zorko from Valicon attributed the low trust rate in doctors of 2016 to media reporting: »It seems that we often attribute a bigger importance to a phenomenon when media attention to that phenomenon is larger than the scope of the problem itself. A typical example of this are vegetarians and vegans. Based of the prominence of these two on social media one could conclude that at least a third of Slovenians follow these diets when in fact we only have 4% of vegans and vegetarians in this country. This is what happens with anti-vaxwers campaigns as well.«
Although we are witnessing an unprecedented development and innovations in healthcare there are still areas where medicine does not have all the answers yet. When treatment options are exhausted, oncology patients often look to the alternatives for help. An oncologist dr. Simona Borštnar, dr. med, from Institute of Oncology Ljubljana believes that patients always have the right to hope for recovery and that it is the doctors' duty to tell the truth and to adapt the treatment to an individual patient.
»When we tell the patient there is nothing we can do for him any more with medication, that we can only alleviate symptoms, the patient does not loose hope. It is normal and human to hope one will recover using a different method. But this is where unverified and even harmful methods come in such as starvation or using baking soda which can even kill you, not help you. We won't be able to eliminate alternative methods but we need to look at who is offering them. These providers are not monitored by anyone nor punished by anyone!”
Misleading medical claims are common about other chronic diseases as well. Diabetic patients, for example, are often targeted by those selling a myriad of nutritional supplements and other things claiming they would cure diabetes. Prof. dr. Andrej Janež, dr. med., head of University Medical Centre Ljubljana's Clinical department of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases, warns: »Diabetologists are very attentive, restrained and react sharply when we encounter alternative treatments, especially since recently three young people nearly died when they were advised to discontinue their insuline treatments. We really should talk about quacks and charlatans not just about alternative medicine because insulin is of life importance for patients with type 1 diabetes.«
The best guarantee for informed decisions about health is a high awareness of the general population. Media hold the most power when it comes to that. But Slovenian media space has not favoured specialized journalism and reporting about science during the last decade. Dragica Bošnjak, Delo newspaper's Znanost (Science) supplement reporter of the past four decades, finds that reporting about science is little more than an unnecessary cost for the media publishers. But, she says, reach research shows that Znanost supplement is very well received and read: »Znanost has been in circulation since 1986. Of course we have received offers enticing us to be kinder in our reporting but we stood firmly although that made us less popular, even within our own publishing house. We've learned together with our researchers and scientists and as a result are now taken seriously by the expert and the general public. Our decisions have paid off.«
Medical innovations which are continuously being developed by researchers in innovative pharmaceutical industry have turned once incurable diseases into manageable chronic diseases. Innovative medicines, therapies and vaccines save lives and lower the overall costs of treatment and rehabilitation. In the next five years we can expect breakthroughs in research and development by innovative pharmaceutical industry which will thoroughly change the lives of patients: »The progress will be most prominent in CAR-T cell therapies research, gene therapy, combining cancer treatments, new Alzheimer's treatments, cell therapy in diabetes and antibacterial monoclonal antibodies research. I would say that development will go further in two ways – we are looking for most efficient medicines for contagious diseases and we are developing simpler therapies with fewer side effects and higher efficiency for chronic diseases which represent a whopping 86% of all disease burden in Europe. Scientific development in pharmaceutical industry is very intense. As you may know one new medicine takes 10.000 ideas so that one might reach the patients in the end. This one component takes 10 to 15 years of intensive research. I firmly believe that innovative pharmaceutical industry will have a major impact on not only patients' but all of our lives,« Anja Šalehar, Forum's board member concluded the round table discussion.