July 21, 2012 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Apparently the Chinese media just discovered the salutatory effect of a good health scare on subscriptions and viewership, and now my parents are finding one thing after another, either directly through newspapers and news broadcasts or indirectly through their friends back home. Most of these topics have very little evidence in either direction, so it's hard to put together a better counterargument than, "Well, it's clearly just wacky!" Except, really, they are clearly just wacky and I'd like the hive mind's help disabusing my parents of them. Maybe there's a Chinese-language Snopes that addresses wacky health scares from the mainland?

I think they see it much as they see traditional medicine. It doesn't bother them that Western practice doesn't include traditional medicine, because there also isn't much study of traditional medicine and usually what scant literature is available reports mixed results. In that sense, these new claims fall into the same category of having very little literature available, probably because nobody wants to fund a longitudinal study on the long-term health consequences of drinking old tea. But I err on the side of "these claims are clearly just wacky and I will dismiss them on my own authority" and they go more toward "better safe than sorry."

Here are a few examples I've heard over the last few months:

- cooked vegetables should be eaten immediately, because they develop something unhealthy during overnight storage at either room temperature or 4C

- all electronic devices, not just cell phones or power lines, emit harmful radiation
posted by d. z. wang to Science & Nature (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, by setting out to prove the negative of these statements (electronic devices emit no radiation and cause no harm! cooked vegetables develop nothing even remotely unhealthy during overnight storage!) you're assigning yourself a nearly impossible logical task, especially in cases where there's not much concrete evidence one way or the other. And knee-jerk skepticism ("clearly just wacky") isn't necessarily any more enlightened an attitude than knee-jerk belief.

Instead of getting into the probably-unresolvable issue of whether these claims are actually true or not, why not just change the grounds of the argument by making it about your own personal standard of evidence? It's perfectly reasonable to say, "Eh, maybe these veggies aren't super-healthy, but I usually figure if it's very dangerous, it'll find its way into scientific journals before long." That way, if your parents particularly want to convince you on any one point, the onus is on them to find more reputable evidence to substantiate their claims.
posted by Bardolph at 8:36 AM on July 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I can't help you with Chinese-language sources, but I've had a small amount of success in countering superstitious urban-legend fearmongering with an equally non-fact-based approach: they're playing you for a chump. (Couched in nicer terms, of course.)

If you can point out what these scare stories are selling - special foods, gadgets, treatments, whatever - and make it seem like somebody's making a quick buck off people like your parents, they'll probably be less willing to buy into the scare. Nobody likes to feel like a sucker, especially if somebody else is getting rich at their expense. Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 9:06 AM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, I was unclear about my goals. I'm not trying to win the argument as such, but rather set their minds at ease. I live with them and we cook for each other; I also work in a field that puts me next to electronic equipment for eight hours a day. Even if my parents can't convince me that they're right, they can still worry about the long-term consequences of our lifestyle. I'd like to show them they have nothing (well, not as much as expected) to fear.

Quietgal, the chump approach is an interesting idea. I'll try that.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:38 AM on July 21, 2012

If you do go the chump route, do not use the word "шав " to describe them. I tried this with my Chinese parents and ended up with my mom not speaking to me for a good while.

Do your parents actually act upon these health scares they read about? Are they actually not storing vegetables or avoiding all electronic devices? Do they actually seem or say that they are worried about whatever they are reading?
posted by astapasta24 at 11:58 AM on July 21, 2012

My parents do the same. They jump onto every crazy sounding health scare/fad and try to force them on to me. One recent fad they bought into: water is bad for you and shortens your life, therefore you should drink as little as possible. They went as far as trying to ration my water intake and refusing to fill my glass to the top when I visited them (they'd only fill it halfway). No matter how much literature or evidence I'd try to explain to them about how water is actually GOOD for you (and there's plenty of that!), it didn't make a difference to them. Luckily, the phase eventually passed and they forgot all about it, as health scares/fads tend to do...if only to be replaced by another.

My understanding is that it isn't actually about the fad--my siblings and I are adults now and on our own, and this is their way of still trying to "parent" us. They are also getting old and are starting to deal with their own mortality and it's starting to show. I try to tell myself that when I become exasperated, although we still get into plenty of fights about it.

My parents aren't Chinese, but they are first generation immigrants.
posted by dede at 3:25 PM on July 21, 2012

My mainland Chinese wife, who is otherwise very intelligent, does the same thing. This may be a bit of a stretch, but I attribute it to the lack of a free press -- when you can't trust anything the state-run media says, you tend to rely on word-of-mouth/internet/weibo rumors for the truth.

When she tells me about the latest wacky health scare or Chinese food superstition, I tell her I'll believe it when I see the study published in a peer-reviewed journal. If there's an obvious profit motive for the rumor, I point that out as well. Even if she's not immediately convinced, the fad usually passes fairly quickly. After five or six years of this, she's become much more skeptical, and even tries to debunk rumors and myths her friends bring up.

But then this happened yesterday:

Wife: [Brushing hair] I'm worried about my kidneys.
Me: Why?
Wife: Look at the hairs in the brush...
Me: Huh?
Wife: There are loose hairs in my brush. That means there's something wrong with my kidneys.
Me: No it doesn't.
Wife: Yes it does. Two girls sitting behind me on the bus today were talking about it.
Me: [sigh]
posted by twisted mister at 10:48 PM on July 22, 2012

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