• Ian Cramer

Why debates are good things.

Jesse recently learned about the myriad of benefits from eating more Twinkies, and this is quite convenient because he loves them! He surrounds himself with like minded people to learn as much as he can about the healthful qualities of Twinkies. The more he hears the same thing, the more he is convinced that Twinkies are awesome and he passionately encourages people to eat more. Despite Jesse thinking he's doing the right thing, the premise of twinkies being healthy is wrong. But how could that be wrong, he asks? Every book he read and every person he heard had nothing but good things to say about Twinkies? It's wrong because Jesse is stuck in his echo chamber and never bothered to explore the counter points to his position. 

The best way to learn, I argue, is in a debate, or as I like to call them 'civil discussions'. The term debate is more widely understood, but has a connotation of being argumentative, uncivil and necessitating a winner and loser, A discussion is a conversation, a scholarly back-and-forth using evidence, points and counter points to enlighten the audience and broaden horizons. Why else are discussions productive and net positives? 

Positions made outside of a vacuum: In a civil discussion, you hear in real time, both sides of a topic from experts. So much of what we hear these days are positions in a vacuum. Like Jesse and his Twinkies, individuals hear single sided arguments which often confirm their bias without ever hearing the counterpoints or rebuttals. 

Allows for deeper understanding: Luckily, the healthful qualities of Twinkies is not a conversation commonly had within nutrition science. But many conversations and debates do revolve around the etiology and treatment of diabetes, heart disease, NAFLD, cancer, obesity and many other chronic diseases. Hearing 2 experts on a subject with different perspectives offer retorts, responses, rejoinders and counterpoints allows a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.

 It moves us forward as a people, as society and as science: Something I've learned in being on social media and from producing a podcast that focuses on long form conversations with doctors and experts is many of these very smart people have very different positions on the same topic. It makes me curious and makes me wonder why. At the end of the discussion, hopefully we can all move forward with a greater understanding of the topic at hand and understand where people with different philosophies are coming from and what evidence they are citing. 

Encourages the concept of 'civil discourse': This is a lost art. Talking with someone else about a topic you disagree with is rarely done these days. Why? It's uncomfortable and it forces you to put your money where your mouth is. Also, we attach our identity to that position, which I believe is flawed. If we partake in a discussion and we sense that the other person has stronger evidence, instead of conceding or changing your position, we take this as an attack on our character, an attack on ourselves, and we feel defeated and dig our heels in deeper. As I mentioned above, echo chambers and social media make discussions even harder because these are done through text, not face to face. But if we want to move forward and become better people, going back to face-to-face conversations and discussions is desperately needed. 

Encourages evidence: As someone with a science mind, I appreciate numbers, studies and evidence to support a claim. Except for purely opinion questions like "What's your favorite flavor of Ice cream", isn't this how the world should work? For complex systems like the human body, the foods we put into it and the end results, some would argue that it's not this simple. But we should be using evidence to support our positions, especially in the field of medicine and nutrition science. The concept of strength of evidence also comes to the surface in discussions. Randomized controlled trials over anecdotes, all day. 

Encourages an open mind: When two scholars are engaged in a polite conversations, it puts people at ease and makes it easier for everyone to consider the counterpoints given. And maybe if those listening aren't too entrenched, their needle may move ever so slightly. That's a victory. I've been passionate about plant-based nutrition for over 8 years, but I want people to tell me I'm wrong and why I'm wrong. I want to follow and weigh the evidence, I want to change my views to that of a stronger line of evidence to help people more effectively. And one way to do that is discussions with experts.

Here's an intellectual exercise: Think of a position you hold strongly, and ask yourself "What evidence would I have to see to consider changing my position"? Maybe that evidence exists, maybe it doesn't. Hint: Unless you're defending your favorite flavor of ice cream, "I would never change my position" is the wrong answer. 

Looking at the other side of the same coin, when are discussions bad ideas? Some topics are not up for debate like gravity or flat-earthism. It's not worth our time. A sticking point for discussions is they're hard to set-up. They require prep time for the guests and moderator. It also requires trust between the guests and between guest and moderator. This trust takes time. But these are only minor speed bumps, not reasons to not try.

     In closing, I truly feel discussions are good things and is an itch I have to scratch as part of my podcast. Look forward to future discussions on The Ian Cramer Podcast on topics such as diabetes management, heart disease mitigation, dietary factors that lead to disease and much more. I have such high hopes for my podcast and my 1 wish at this point is having more time to produce and create these conversations. If you enjoy the podcasts and these articles, you can support my work by telling your friends about it, sharing a post on social media or contributing to my work through my Patreon Page.

For now, you can catch up on all of the past conversations here as well as on the iTunes store. 

What do you think? Would you be in favor of discussions between experts if they're civil and productive? 



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