“I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
–-Richard P. Feynman
The above quote, by one of the most influential physicists in American history, cuts to the core danger of CME through podcasts. In the worst case, a listener in solitude hears a persuasive speaker give a talk on a subject, takes a podcast as complete truth, then with a false sense of understanding harms a patient.
Before appearing to be overly criticical of podcasting, which is a revolutionary way of disseminating information, I’ll speak to the history and benefits. Podcasting began as a home-brewed form of audio distribution in 2000, when music downloads via file-sharing networks were skyrocketing. Then Apple integrated podcasts into iTunes, and the medium morphed into a standardized means of distribution and subscription. Over the past 10 years, podcasts on all subjects have emerged as a way to distribute audio and video inexpensively and automatically through the Internet.
For residents, podcasts are an invaluable part of education, and I’d like to highlight the benefits before continuing with the warnings. Each audio program brings an element of spontaneity to the educational process. Learning about sickle cell anemia and other blood dyscrasias might be low on the reading list until one hears a great talk on the subject. Just as an influential speaker at a conference inspires interest in an obscure or emerging topic, podcasts provide such serendipity. Many of the best audio programs also cite journal articles to support their statements and assertions while increasing the excitement of learning.
There is, however, a difference between hearing and comprehending, just as there is a difference between seeing and doing.
The danger of relying too heavily on podcasts as a source of education is the same danger that comes with reading only one textbook or training in one city at one hospital. A listener can be lulled into a false sense of knowledge. It is virtually impossible to learn a procedure, understand the pharmacokinetics of an overdose, or gain a firm grasp on any complicated subject by listening to an audio podcast.
Even more dangerous than developing a false sense of understanding is falling prey to the logical fallacy of argument from authority. In 1901 Albert Einstein, in a letter to a friend, wrote, “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” Just because a famous speaker praises a journal article or a new technique does not make it true or beneficial. Although this seems to be common sense, it is easy, when listening in isolation, blindly to accept statements from an “expert.”