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The big question: ignorance

Are we ignorant about our own health?

Sarah May

Deputy Chief Executive

The Institute of Biomedical Science, London

We are responsible for understanding our bodies, for helping to maintain good health and for recognising and acting when something is wrong, but I am amazed at the ignorance of the general population and their willingness to abuse not only their own health, but to also abuse the health resources that they turn to when things go wrong.

We are fortunate as biomedical science provides an amazing insight into the workings of our bodies and I trust my knowledge of our anatomy, physiology and pathological processes to understand and manage my health. 

However, not everyone is interested in science and over recent years we have seen a growing trend for a suspicion of science and medicine while embracing alternative theories and remedies that do not always have a sound evidence base for efficacy.

I can’t blame people for either ignorance or suspicion, as I feel that science and health matters are generally poorly reported and aside from school biology lessons, the media is generally the only access people that have to health information. 

Every week there is news of something that is good or bad for our health and invariably it conflicts with earlier reports.

My mantra is to eat well, sleep well and to listen to our bodies – common sense goes a long way if you’re not a biomedical scientist.


Ashley Ballard

Senior Biomedical Scientist

Cellular Pathology, The Royal Bournemouth Hospital

There are an ever-increasing number of wearable, or connected devices designed to help monitor people’s health. These allow individuals to monitor their own weight, blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose levels; monitoring them in real time as well as tracking changes. There is also a huge amount of easily accessible free data on health available on the internet. With the use of smart speakers and assistants, such as Alexa or Google home, it is now even easier to access this information.

Given all this available information it could be argued that people should be more knowledgeable about their health than ever. However, this does not appear to be the case, as evidenced by the current obesity epidemic in the UK. 

It is unclear why this is so – it could be ignorance, suspicion of science, or even self-delusion. 

Although perhaps the most likely explanation is data overload; people are bombarded with information in the media and online, and much of the information available is contradictory. 

As biomedical scientists we are trained to sort and assess the validity of these data sources, but often the general public struggle to determine what advice to follow.

Education can certainly help, and perhaps as biomedical scientists we should be taking a greater role in education at all levels – sharing our knowledge and skills to guide the public and increase trust in science.


Sally Jane Cutler

Professor in Medical Microbiology

University of East London

I would have to answer yes, and this is the way that I want it. You can be screened for so many things that might suggest that you have higher risk factors than average for so many maladies, but will this knowledge help you? 

Lifestyle changes might have a moderate influence, but we are what we are and I am happy to enjoy each day as it comes without worrying about increased chances of suffering with some condition to which I am currently blindly ignorant.

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