Anti-Science

Oh dear god, it has begun.

By “it” I refer, of course, to the annual office germ exchange that leaves coworkers cowering in their cubes, vigorously clawing at their own hands with sanitizing alcohol scrubs and popping Vitamin C tablets like antidepressants at Christmas dinner. Half the office was sick yesterday. The other half today. I woke up with Brillo pads lodged in the back of my throat, but I dragged myself to work anyway because I’m a real trooper, a go-getter, a team player, or then again maybe I’m just a masochist. Attempting to be productive, I have been sitting at my desk for the past hour staring at Stumpy, my ceramic bulldog with the broken paws, silently praying for death.

We just finished a meeting, and by ‘meeting’ I mean that we all stood around clutching mugs of tea, bitching about our colds. My boss suggested we all start taking Airborne, and at that moment I realized that no situation was so bad that it couldn’t be made worse by having to bite your tongue so hard it bleeds all over your new sweater. I see the stuff at the grocery store as I’m waiting in line. “Airborne! Now in pink grapefruit flavor!” “Airborne! Scientifically proven to mumblemumblemumble!” Now it has invaded my workplace.

My coworkers immediately confirmed that Airborne was the greatest thing since drilling a hole in your skull to let the demons out. “You know you have to take it three times a day, right?” asked my boss. Everyone nodded. One girl claimed she had to force it down her fiance’s throat. Another said she was almost out and had to go pick up some more. I stood there quietly, wondering what to say. I could hear the snot rushing through my head like a waterfall — the white noise was soothing. Finally I spoke up:

“I hear it was developed by a teacher.” They all nodded happily. Screw it, I’m going home.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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18 Comments

  1. While I applaud your trooper like instincts, most people can't tell the difference between the initial stages of influenza and standard cold viruses. While flu vaccines cover the most likely dominant strain it's not unlikely that other strains also take hold. And while not in the slightest worried about bird flu, and to a certain extent standard flu, I have had full blown flu once and it's not very nice. Some people that drag themselves into work should have bio-hazard stickers about their person. Ditto for noroviruses. Bastards.

  2. Every time I see that stuff and see the "Designed by a teacher" on the box, I wonder how anyone could be that gullible to think that being a teacher gives you any knowledge of or mystical powers over a cold virus.

  3. Rebecca, my sympathies.

    I must say, however, that your "soldiering on" is misguided. By your account, your whole office is sick, whereas my office has only one of ten complaining of a cold at the moment. The reason? I think it is because we have come to an agreement that being in the office with a cold or flu is counter-productive. We either work from home or call in sick. In our line of work (mainframe system software support), the last thing we need is someone who can't think straight, as a bad decision can knock many thousand of users offline. If somebody starts showing the signs of cold or flu, the rest of us get assertive and tell the walking bag of germs to go home. It works.

    Get well soon! Happy Solstice Season!

  4. "…popping Vitamin C tablets like antidepressants at Christmas dinner"

    Just to clarify, in the interest of not propagating myths and stereotypes, most antidepressants these days (and by that I mean SSRI's such as Prozac or Zoloft) are not something you "pop". It takes around 10 days for them to even start affecting your mood. What does start immediately are the side effects: nausea, fatigue, inability to concentrate etc. A really good reference on mental health problems, including medication is the Internet Mental Health" site. The site is great because it doesn't talk down to it's readers and give a thorough, scientific description of all metal health related issues, with references to medical journals.

    I've never heard of "Airborne", but doesn't the FDA have to approve drugs? Or is it sold as a "health supplement"?

    I hope you feel better soon, I just got over the flu myself, and believe me if there was a pill that could make it go away I would have forked over a lot of money to get it.

  5. Please don't go to work and spread your germs when you are sick. Unless, of course, your company does not give you paid sick time off. In that case, go and spread it all over the place and make everyone else sick just for spite!

  6. I can see how "developed by a teacher" might make some kind of weird sense. Nobody is exposed to more disease and germs than a teacher. Especially with younger kids.

    I visited my mom last week, and she was babysitting my 6 month old niece. So I played with her all afternoon, and fed her her fruit punch.

    Last Saturday, I woke up with a really bad headache and a fever. Spent the whole weekend feeling like shit.

    Luckily, it was only a 24 hour kind of bug, or something.

    Babies are dangerous …

  7. "Developed by a teacher" does make intuitive sense because teachers tend to be exposed to so much junk that they wind up with pretty tough defenses against strains that don't mutate too much. I was an elementary school TA for a year, & I got very sick for the first 2 months, but then didn't get sick at all for quite a while afterward. It may be purely a matter of chance, but I suspect that I was exposed to so much crap that I wound up with tons of antibodies in my system. So, really, if you want to keep from being sick, just spend lots of time around kids!

  8. As a (college) teacher myself, I've found that the most effective way to avoid colds is simply to avoid grading and eating at the same time. If I'm not handling their papers while handling my food, I rarely get a cold (much to my student's annoyance).

  9. bPer, you assume that Rebecca gets sick leave. She might not. In fact, simply by virtue of living in America, land of Fucking Over Employees, it's more likely than not that she doesn't.

    Hell, my sick days come out of my vacation time. Yes, that's right. My employer considers "I don't want to give the whole office Ebola" as a frivilous, selfish concern on par with "Good God, this job is so depressing that I really need a long weekend in Vegas to dull the pain". So do most others, for that matter.

    Anyway, on the subject of Airborne, when I went to Vegas (I swear it was for a business trip and not for dulling any sort of work-related pain), the jetBlue people were handing boxes of the stuff out for free. I weep.

  10. Airborne works for me, but only if I use it at the onset of symptoms — itchy eyes, slight burning sensation in the nasal passages. If I wait until congestion and runny nose set in, it has no effect. Caught early enough, I can feel the some of the effects of the cold virus for about 5-7 days thereafter, but never develop the runny nose and congestion.

  11. I'm not a scientist, nor a doctor, (nor a teacher and I feel the comments here unfairly malign teachers) but I have to say given the state of our health care system, I'm unlikely to trust either. I have little confidence in our medical system to do much more than provide us with souped up expensive placebos that wind up leaving us all dependent upon medication that we need but can't afford, or can't afford and don't need.

    In the past two years I've seen a sister misdiagnosed who had Chron's disease, my best friend who had an infected Gall Bladder sent back home from emergency with advil (soon after it burst), been misdaignosed after having heart palpitations, and seen a friend misdaignosed with massive throat infection after coming in with 105 degree fever. How those brilliant folks missed that one, I'll never know.

    I went in complaining of sharp pain in my ovary, and I had to fight to get them to even do a Pap. In fact, I was told that I didn't need a Pap, or an ultrasound, which I eventually got. Further proof that although I appreciate my health care, HMO's are like the Micky D's of medicine.

    So while you all may have confidence in your doctor, I have MORE confidence in a teacher. Maybe Airborne works, maybe it is just the mind healing itself. The question most people ask at the end of the day is "Will it harm me" and "Does it work?"

    Works for me. I don't need anything else. Not all home remedies work, but consider this: you don't have to be brilliant to find a home remedy that does.

    With all the gains in modern medicine, nobody's found the cure for the common cold or flu. You know what they tell us to do? Use grandmama's remedies.

    Try it. You may learn she was right.

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