Would You Go To An Eye Doctor Who Believes Babies Come From Storks?

I didn’t formulate the question; I’m only relaying it to make a point. Richard Dawkins (RD) has a great new book with citations about reading and writing science, and his first chapter contains the transcription of a conversation with physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (NDT) with the following exchange:

“RD: Imagine you were going to consult a doctor, and I’ll make him an eye doctor becuase they’re sort of … above the waist, but you happen to know that privately he doesn’t believe in the sex theory of reproduction. He believes that babies come from storks.

NDT: OK. I wouldn’t go to that doctor.

RD: You wouldn’t go that doctor, but I’ve met plenty of people – especially in America – who say, ‘It’s not any of your business what he believes below the waist … he’s an eye doctor. Is he competent? Can he repair your cataracts?’ I don’t think he should be employed in a hospital because what you’re saying about that man is that he’s got the kind of mind which is so adrift from reality that even if he’s a competent eye surgeon, I don’t think he could be trusted.

NDT: OK so – interestingly – you’re reacting the way our ancestors hearing the rustle in the bushes are reacting, because most of the time its wind, some of the time it’s a leopard and that creates a fear factor that overrides everything else. He’s a good eye surgeon, he or she is a good eye surgeon, but there’s that lingering risk that the stork theory of reproduction might somehow affect the scalpel. So you fear that risk.

RD: I’m not sure it needs to affect the scalpel; I think it’s something —

NDT: OK, so then you object on principle.

RD: I think so, yes.

NDT: Yes, not on practice. It’s a principle thing.”

The spirit of this was similar to issues we raised in a blog we did a few years ago. In it I wrote:

One of the best working groups I’ve been privileged to be a part of, chaired by Dr. Gary Williams, met in my office nearly 14 years ago to hammer out something that had been bothering us for quite some time.  We had seen a trend through position statements of organized ophthalmology and pediatrics in differentiating eye problems from brain problems to discredit the relevance of optometry in general, and glasses & vision therapy in particular, to learning problems.  Local pediatric ophthalmologists and even some pediatricians had embarked on an active campaign of sending letters to local school systems, educators, and allied professionals making these pseudo-distinctions in the guise of patient advocacy. This culminated in a position paper, approved by the AOA and published in Optometry in November 2004.

I was reminded again of this when I read an article issued by the AOA a few days ago regarding the brain-eye connection.

We have been making the point through these blogs for many years that the retina is the outermost part of the brain, and while the current search for retinal biomarkers as an early bellwether of neurocognitive degeneration is welcome, the functional implications that our AOA paper addressed 17 years ago now take on added significance. Increasingly patients (or parents) who are told by their eye doctor that the eyes have nothing to do with learning because they see 20/20 in each eye and are aligned, find that as plausible as the belief that babies are delivered by the stork.

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