We have a tendency to think that everything which is new, as an improvement on that which is old. Whilst new inventions can improve our lives I am talking about changing things that work quite well for no reason other than something new has turned up.
Previously I have written about how new medications were often no better than the ones replaced. And how the gap between medications and placebo had dropped considerably over the last 40 years. It also turns out that many “new” medical procedures are not any better than ones they replace.
A review in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed around 40% of new treatments reviewed between 2001 and 2010 were no better or worse than what they replaced. Some 38% were better and in 22% it was not clear.
This principal also applies in other areas where new ideas take hold. Sometimes there is room for improvement but the proverbial baby is very easily thrown out with the bathwater. An interesting article in a recent edition of The Economist looks at rates of imprisonment in the USA and how one in every 107 adults is behind bars. It gives the example of how a man has been jailed for life with no parole for possession of 1.2 grams of methamphetamine
This comes about from mandatory sentencing and the fact that he had prior convictions for crimes as heinous as shouting at a neighbour. The combination of being “tough on drugs” and mandatory sentencing was supposed to bring about improvements in society as the “old ways” were not working. The result has now led the attorney general to state that there is an “unnecessarily large prison population”.
He is proposing changes, which will arguably reverse some of the changes since 1980. No doubt they will not be described that way.
In the education sector all the ideas about teaching were thrown out after the 1970’s in a postmodernist orgy of change. Employers now bemoan graduates who are virtually illiterate and we have a generation who have no idea whether they are achieving or not because everyone gets a medal just for showing up.
A local school has had a significant improvement in its results over the last few years. The headline was “The secrets of their success”. When one looks at what they did it is neither a secret or very new.
The school did explicit teaching including phonics (they taught the children to read and write). They scheduled extra reading classes. They coached teachers on how to improve their performance. They got the children to wear a school uniform.
And they held high expectations for the children to succeed. In other words they emphasized doing your best rather than just going through the motions. I sense between the lines that the school deviated from standard government department education protocols.
Put simply the school has an approach, which went out of fashion in the 70’s. That is one of teaching, discipline, respect and aiming high. This is both very simple and very effective. It is neither new or a secret.
In health we have also gone down the path of new drugs, new procedures and worshiped at the altar of medical science. Certainly some new advances have been very beneficial but we have thrown away the knowledge of our ancestors. The basics of good health have not changed, since the days of Hippocrates.
Things like eating foods in season, drinking mainly water, being active and meditating.
When we do not get the basics right, our health suffers and we then look to the system to fix us. The system is decreasingly able to do so.
Going forwards the new secrets in health will be the rediscovering of the basics of old.