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What is Truth?

By Dr. Lucas Restrepo
. 1 Comment(s)

A stone in the shoe:

World of Class Warfare - The Poor's Free Ride Is Over - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - 08/18/11 - Video Clip | Comedy Central

There is a difference between selling a product and seeking the truth. Increasingly, we have become customers interested in indulging in preconceived notions, instead of being curious about unedited facts.

But is there anything wrong with that? Isn’t it our prerogative to choose whatever source of information we want? Maybe. Giving up our own analysis creates mutually-exclusive worlds, where the existence of a reality different from ours is impossible. This splitting invites manipulation.

A liar is an admirer of truth. Since lies are the opposite of truth, liars must understand reality before creating a convincing contrary. Fox news is different. For the Fox commentator, truth is irrelevant. Lies can be debunked with facts, but the dismissal of truth resists confrontation, as any argument in support of something worthless is a waste of time. (Harry G. Frankfurt elaborates here a brilliant distinction between lying and dismissing the truth).

Prejudice is the enemy of understanding. The best way to counteract biases is to attempt demonstrating the opposite of what is deemed true. Science, the survey of truth through systematic observation and experimentation, is the exact contrary of what pundits do. Rather than starting out with a preconceived premise, the scientist seeks to disprove his own notions. This exercise in humility begins with the enunciation of the null hypothesis (Ho). Then, experiences are planned to reject or accept Ho.

Example: In my experience, poverty (without quotation marks) is real, hence Ho=poverty is not real. To test Ho, I need to choose a place where poor people, if any, are likely to be observed (the country club, natural habitat of Fox fans, may not be an ideal place). The streets of Los Angeles may be more promising. I need an operational definition of poverty: “those who can’t meet their essential needs, such as nutrition, apparel, housing, employment and health care”. I also need a statistical method: will look at 100 people; if >5 are poor, I will accept an alternative hypothesis, i.e., “poverty is real” (to be fair and balanced, I will assume that seeing <5 poor people is just an anomaly).

A bus stop; n=6. A mother reprehends four children. All come on board; mom flashes a card indicating that she can’t afford public transportation. Their apparel is cheap; maybe they can’t afford good clothing either. Maybe this is an anomaly; must observe more. Inside,  n=18. An elderly man, disheveled and smelling like urine. He is versed in conspiracies. My nose tells me, unequivocally, that he is poor. Two men discuss their unemployment without sparing expletives. Time to get off the bus; n=61 on the street. A man digs around in a garbage can, retrieving with satisfaction an unidentifiable snack. Another begs for money, his feet visible through emaciated heels. A woman talks to a wall; I ask her if she is well, eliciting a toothless smile, and she apologizes to the wall for the interruption. A man wrapped in rags on a street corner moans, cigarette butts marking the perimeter of his turf. I enter the hospital, named after a politician who believed that homelessness is a choice; I round on my service, n=15, the residents (n=3) discuss their college loans. Two patients are uninsured. Another expresses more interest in knowing when he can return to work to avoid being fired, than in my prognosis about his hemiparesis. I look out the window. It’s planet Earth, indeed.

Ho is rejected.

Science is the destroyer of myths. But some things never change. Two thousand years ago, a Roman magistrate called Pontius Pilate thought that a prisoner on death row was innocent. Yet he didn’t stop the execution. Washing his hands, he asked: what is truth? The answer was in front of him, but he just didn’t care. 

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  1. Joel Weddington MD

    Thanks for the inspiration Luis, it's good to be on the side of the Truth, and it will be even better when we have convinced them that we are right and they have no choice but to stop destroying the health of our nation.

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