Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

What would Carl Sagan do?

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

I’ve been on an absurdly overdue holiday (understatement), so I’ve fallen behind on the blog/newsletter (and basically everything else there is to fall behind on). To get the ball rolling again, here’s a quick item, published while waiting for a float plane to take me home, some new art for

Stylized image of Carl Sagan’s face captioned with the large, bold acronym “WWCSD”.

“What would Carl Sagan do?” is the modern skeptic’s riff on “What would Jesus do?” Clear critical thinking is a complex skill that can never be fully learned, only endlessly practiced & refined. Sagan was an inspiring modern master of it.

I whipped this image up a little while ago to use in a handful places around the site. It’s a public domain photo of Carl from NASA with the background stripped out, the contrast boosted, then posterized and colourized with a PainSci blue. This is a style I plan to make wider use of, and so I’ve been experimenting with it.

The importance of Sagan-esque critical thinking in healthcare

Healthcare requires as much mental rigour as we can muster — especially for patients with unexplained chronic pain and illness. Consider the perilous situation with Long Covid:

Many of the country’s top medical centers have set up multidisciplinary clinics to see long-haul patients, but advocates say there aren’t nearly enough to handle the millions of Americans expected to be dealing with lingering issues from covid-19 in coming years, leaving most of them struggling to navigate a maze of doctors and diagnoses on their own.

How qualified are those millions of patients to “navigate a maze of doctors and diagnoses on their own”? The answer is probably depressing.

I have written a lot over the years about how to think about health and healthcare. For example, here’s one that covers one of Sagan’s most important lessons, the “extraordinary claim”: What’s a “Claim” in Health Care? And another, an obscure article I have hardly ever promoted: How to Simplify Chronic Pain Puzzles.