Your state dental license will expire next month. As you complete your renewal form, you realize that you need 4 more hours of continuing education credits to qualify for renewal. You are aware of a course scheduled on your next day off, so you register right away. The topic of the course involves a new bracket design that its developer claims is the “most pain-free and fastest tooth-moving system yet.”
The lecture opens with a series of case reports of patients treated with the new bracket. The speaker is extremely confident, almost pompous in his delivery, claiming that his bracket is superior to any others. He specifically names developers of other bracket systems with condescension and alludes to their inferiority. Eventually, an attendee respectfully raises her hand and asks whether the lecturer can cite any clinical evidence to support his claims of appliance superiority. The lecturer booms back from the podium, minimizing the need for literature support, claiming his results should be sufficient proof of the efficacy of his appliance.
Since biblical times, the podium (and later the microphone) has represented a position of power and authority. Often the speaker’s delivery style can be more persuasive than the message. History is replete with people whose public rhetoric was not only extremely convincing but also impeccably timed to meet the immediate needs of the audience. Recall the long line of self-aggrandizing dictators who have convinced entire populations that their way was the right way, regardless of the cost in human life and the amount of destruction. Although a discussion of treatment techniques is not comparable with the power of a political fanatic, the speaker in either case can have the ability to be persuasive beyond reason.
As you listen to this lecture, you realize that the speaker is indeed transgressing from the requirements of veracity. The AAO Code of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct, Section V.A, addresses veracity—truth-telling—as follows:
Members shall ensure that their public statements, announcements of services and promotional activities for providing information to aid the public, patients and/or other health care providers in making informed decisions, are not false, deceptive or misleading in any material respect.
This directive relegates the ethical responsibility of veracity to the speaker. Guidelines for appropriate communication between a speaker and the listeners were developed by British philosopher and linguist H. Paul Grice (1913-1988). Although Grice proposed his Four Maxims of Communication for conversation, they can apply to the lecturer-audience relationship. The maxims are as follows:
Quality: say neither more nor less than the discussion requires; do not say that which you believe to be false or that for which you lack adequate evidence.
Relevance: be relevant in your information.
Manner: be orderly and brief, and avoid obscurity.
Quantity: include no more or no less than the topic requires.
The speaker’s position of authority is a privilege that should not be abused. The speaker should endeavor to use evidence-based information to substantiate the course content. If no such references are available, the speaker should so indicate by clarifying that the statements are based on opinion, or his or her own observations. The speaker should never criticize or denigrate others or their ideas. Finally, the speaker should clearly indicate any financial interests or conflicts of interest that involve the content of the lecture.
One hallmark of an energizing, enlightening, and inspiring presentation is the speaker’s passion for the subject material. Yet, veracity in content and presentation, always with respect for others, comprises common-sense courtesy and intellectual honesty. And when the presentation concludes, the best judge as to whether the lecture was worth the price of admission is . . . you.