Alternative Medicine: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

– Written by Morgan Lashley –

Black and white vs. fifty shades of grey

When I heard the topic for this blog, something started itching in me right away.

Because I have enough to say about alternative medicine. And also enough to nag about…

Let me start with the fact that I myself, with my chiropractic activities, officially fall under the group of alternative medicine.

Despite the many scientific studies that have been done on chiropractic.

I am absolutely willing to think outside the box, but I am also critical.

I like to see objective (and preferably scientifically substantiated) results and I think a thorough education is important.

Because if you do a little research into what is available in the horse world, then you quickly find yourself on a slippery slope.

From vague supplements that are supposed to be good for EVERYTHING, to infused angel water (no joke) and a whole range of practitioners with questionable or non-existent training…

In an earlier version of this blog, I went on for two paragraphs about all sorts of vague products in the horse world and my frustration with them.

That is why I am taking a different tack in this blog.

After spending quite a few years in the horse world, I have learned that there are few people in this world who have a stronger opinion than the ‘Dutch horse owner’.

You could even call us -I am one myself- a bit stubborn. That’s why I try to keep some of my frustrations to myself these days.

I have stopped warning people about therapists with insufficient training, about unsubstantiated therapies and about the law (who is and who is not allowed to treat horses).

That often falls on deaf ears.

In the end, people ultimately choose who can touch their horses anyway.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

So I thought I would talk about an interesting phenomenon in this column: the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Maybe some of you are familiar with this phenomenon. But for those who aren’t, I’ll explain it briefly.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is the progression of your competencies on a particular subject in relation to the self-confidence you have about these competencies.

source image: Wikimedia commons

When you first learn something, in any field, you may experience it as a kind of epiphany.

You feel like you get it and can implement it. But often we over-simplify the situation at that point.

You think that if incident A presents itself, you should always act in manner B. The world seems black and white and you overestimate your own competencies.

With the Dunning-Kruger effect, we are then on top of ‘Mount Stupid’.

As you learn more, follow a year-long study for example, you find out that the world is not black and white but more than 50 shades of grey.

And that when incident A presents itself you don’t really know whether option B is suitable.

You have to take the whole alphabet in option. I often hear the comment ‘my vet doesn’t know what’s wrong with my horse’.

This is not because your vet doesn’t know enough, but actually because they know a lot.

There are very few things within equine medicine that are just black and white.

There are few symptoms that always belong to a specific disease or problem.

By the way, fun fact: if there is a certain symptom that always belongs to a certain disease, then we call that symptom pathognomonic. Nice expensive word, good for scrabble!

Unfortunately, there are not that many pathognomonic symptoms. That would make our work a lot easier.

A4 sheet full of causes

But to give some practical examples: head-shaking in horses can be caused by a page full of different problems.

Girthing problems? Similar amount of possible problems that can be the cause of that.

Staking under saddle? Not wanting to go forward? Showing startle behavior? All of these problems have at least A4 pages of different problems that could be the cause.

So how do we finally know what your horse’s real problem is?

By doing many examinations: looking, feeling, looking and feeling again, taking blood samples, making X-rays, ultrasounds and so on.

In the end we often only reach a diagnosis because we have been able to cross off as many causes as possible from our A4 sheet.

You will understand that I am therefore always a bit suspicious of therapists who think they know exactly what is wrong after just one look at the horse.

And they make ‘diagnoses’ without ever having seen the horse in motion or even having touched it.

That’s not ‘magic’, that’s sitting on top of Mount Stupid.

And the observant reader has probably already realized that despite my promise from earlier, I do secretly warn you a little bit about certain ‘magical’ treatments and practitioners.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t hold back 😉

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