Mondays, I often read “The Conversation,” a wide-ranging chat between New York Times columnists Gail Collins and Bret Stephens. This week’s, “It’s Never a Good Time for the Hunter Biden Story,” disturbed me, though it had nothing to do with the president’s son.
Stephens, a conservative, supports year-round daylight savings. Collins, a liberal, doesn’t like switching back and forth either but commented that many sleep scientists find standard time in winter healthier. “So I’ll go with them, just to be difficult.”
Stephens’ response furrowed my brow. “Modern-day liberals are often quite happy to defer to the wisdom of experts, at least when it comes to subjects like public health or economics.” Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to be skeptics. He cited the late William F. Buckley, who preferred to “be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone directory than by the Harvard University faculty.”
Let me get specific here.
I read the column in my urologist’s waiting room. In 2017, I was treated for prostate cancer. My radiation sessions concluded in August. Today, my PSA score, revealing proteins that may indicate cancer, remains almost undetectable. Not being a urologist, I’ll wait for my next test in September—the five-year mark—before saying, “I’m cured!”
Back to Stephens. Public-health issues are complicated. Scientists may not get everything right at the start of a pandemic. Data can take years to accumulate and unpack. Economists? They often provide conflicting, and mistaken, opinions. Theirs is a “soft” science. But both groups draw on a wealth of data and experience.
But let’s get real. After years tracking my admittedly imperfect PSA tests, my primary doctor, calling on science and best judgment, referred me to a urologist.
My urologist monitored me for years. My PSA rose. A new type of test revealed an aggressive cancer. What to do? I didn’t consult the common knowledge of 2,000 random people. Sure, anyone facing a serious illness might wish to speak with others who’ve gone through it. A while back, a friend contacted me to gain insights from my experience. He was considering whether to undergo treatment and what kind. He did not echo a comment I overheard several years ago: A woman advised a man that a high PSA score meant nothing; he shouldn’t be treated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which collects data most of us don’t, 32,000 Americans died of prostate cancer in 2020. Each case is individual, but adhering to science might save many lives.
I doubt that Bret Stephens—not a far-rightest—refuses medical care. Should he face a condition that’s challenging to diagnose and treat, I suspect he’ll make choices according to the best scientific/medical opinions he can find.
Sadly, many Americans deride expertise. They view “common sense” as sufficient to deal with complex challenges for which most of us lack knowledge and experience. The dogmatism of “regular folks” replaces hard-earned knowledge and the difficult task of weighing options.
Might my prostate cancer return five years from now? Ten? My urologist can’t promise it won’t. What he can offer me is a prognosis based on research and data. I’ll always live with a degree of uncertainty. What I do know: I am not a urologist, and I’m damn glad I went to my appointment.
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