I ask a man directions to a hotel in a town I don’t know: “at the roundabout, take the first right “.
I thank him, follow his directions and after a long road I find myself in open countryside. As I dejectedly retrace my steps, I think of how what has just happened to me is the easiest way to describe how bad information can put us on the wrong path and leave us feeling lost, out of place, uncertain and insecure. In this case, it had probably only been hurriedness or lack of detail, I don’t want to suggest that the man gave me the wrong direction on purpose for a reason that doesn’t exist, I might even just have misunderstood!
How could I have prevented it happening? A simple map or an up-to-date satnav would have enabled me to move around freely and safely in that town. But is it always easy to defend yourself against bad information? My professional bias leads me to question how many times, hopefully very few, I might have given incorrect advice or information to a patient because of a misdiagnosis. What might have been the consequences and how could they have defended themselves? The comforting answer is, however, that we always do things with the best intentions.
Once I have finally found the place and was sat in a comfortable armchair, I have time to spend reading newspapers, the television on in the background, I start getting angry. I read, for example, a note from the Ecclesiastical Fathers “we have heard of behaviour which goes against public decorum, we have heard of lifestyles which are not compatible with sobriety and correctness…while some ask if it is right to use such invasive means of investigation.” It makes you want to ask the author of the statement “so what do you think? Whose side are you on?” But I don’t delude myself, they would never give a clear answer. Can you imagine a more reticent and ambiguous statement than this, given only to increase confusion in those who need, on certain problems, to hear definitive and unequivocal answers?! Instead, that citizen finds themselves in open countryside with no map and no satnav.
Let’s move on to the page in which they discuss health, a subject on which I consider myself an expert. Here the deceit, the trick, which is hiding in the recesses of the bad information cannot escape me: “An astonishing scientific discovery which will save us from an indefinite number of illnesses”. Reading the article accurately, without stopping at the headline or blurb, I find that it is only at the end that they write that the experiment was conducted on white hamsters, on a small sample and that in order to find out if it would also work on humans we unfortunately still need many years of studies and research. Inevitably, it is followed by a request for funding. This is also bad information because the reader and, which is even sadder, a sick person might be attracted by the title and be deluded, by illusions which are not false, but definitely misleading and deceitful.
Next to this article, I read an even slyer piece of news: “in a great hospital in an great Italian city (everything has to be great so that it’s more believable, even if the addition of the adjective “Italian” dulls the hope a little) they have found the way to fight and win the battle against lung tumours. Thanks to a super modern supertechnology it is possible to blast and kill the tumour (war words always catch our attention) without damaging surrounding tissue”. The news isn’t incorrect, even if it is not very new, but it is missing a small clarifying remark: the technique, sorry supertechnology, can only be applied to a tumour of small dimensions where surgery is not possible, which is, I add, hardly ever. But those who have paid out for those expensive machines, have to cover the costs as soon as possible!
While absorbed in these thoughts I hear, from the television, the firm and powerful voice of the Minister for Justice: “The Prime Minister has overwhelming public approval and has already won three elections, so he responds only to the people”. True, I think, in a democracy the people are king! “It doesn’t work quite like that”, writes Barbara Spinelli. “The people are king but only within the limits of the Constitution and force of law. Laws which state that we are all equal”.
So what? You see that, at least in politics, the knowledge of the Constitution and the Law represent a map, a satnav to orientate ourselves in this ocean of contradictory information?
To relax I decide to turn to the sports pages to read the report on the Roma-Juventus match. Here I can consult two newspapers, one from the north and one from central Italy (for those who don’t know, we’re the only country in the world with four national sports dailies). So I have the pleasure of reliving two completely different games, which have only the final score in common and could be any more manipulated. The score lies for one side and is beyond reproach for the other, a proven penalty becomes a shameful dive, a sound and fair referee becomes useless and (maybe even) corrupt, a good, attentive crowd become a mass of rioters. The psychological subjection, the underhand moves, the hidden powers present in equal measure on each side. Bad information, but excusable, everyone will keep their own opinion without any real drama. A fan can put up with this nonsense!
It was all just bad information then! No. I’ll leave you with some good news. By buying three types of yoghurt you can have: from the first, a slim waistline with a flat stomach and skin like peaches; from the second, lower cholesterol level to avoid a heart attack; from the third, increased immune defences to protect you from every illness.
Who could ask for more?