This photo shot by Dr. Stanley in Patagonia brought to mind a bit of trivia I learned years ago—that flamingos’ coloring is related to carotenoids in the algae, brine fly larvae, and crustaceans they consume. Nowadays colonies in captivity usually get the pigment as an ingredient in pellet food, but early on, zoos served carrots, tomatoes, and/or red peppers to keep birds “in the pink.”
Why do I know this? Because of an anecdote my brother shared from a lecture he heard in medical school. His professor was explaining the baffling case of a man whose body was reddish-orange from head to toe. Having never seen such a rash, the doctor took an extensive history and scheduled lab work to solve the mystery. Then, as an afterthought, it occurred to him to ask about diet. What he discovered was that the patient had been consuming bushels of tomatoes every week. And as is true of flamingos, the hefty dose of pigment affected his appearance. The man hadn’t mentioned the lopsided regimen because he assumed it was normal—his mother had always said tomatoes would keep him healthy and encouraged eating them often.
The professor was impressing on those future doctors the importance of not overlooking the obvious—or, as they say in the medical world, “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” But my guess is, the brightly tinted patient came away with yet another essential lesson: that it’s wise to fact-check, even when your data comes from a good source (like Mom). After all, there’s an abundance of misinformation out there, and truth is a safeguard against embarrassing gullibility or, worse, malicious attempts to frighten or swindle.
It’s wise to fact-check, even when your data comes from a good source.
President Ronald Reagan would have approved. He popularized the expression “Trust but verify” by quoting that Russian proverb during nuclear disarmament talks and subsequently repeating it often. In promoting the principle, Reagan was—whether he recognized it or not—relying on biblical wisdom. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 expresses it this way: “Examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good.”
Scripture goes even further by supplying us with a role model. The Bereans took the idea of verification to heart, even when their source was none other than the apostle Paul himself. Their esteem for God’s Word is applauded in Acts 17:11 and still praised 2,000 years later: “The people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth” (NLT). Notice that God’s Word commends not simply what they did but also their attitude. Instead of listening with skepticism and then reluctantly changing their mind (a mindset not uncommon in the modern marketplace of ideas), the Bereans “received the word with great eagerness” (NASB) and then checked it out thoroughly. The result? “Many of them believed” (Acts 17:12).
And we are wise to follow their example. For as 2 Timothy 2:15 (TLB) teaches, when we “know what [God’s] Word says and means,” we too will be approved—with no fear of being red-faced.