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Evidence, evidence, evidence. In my field (and most others), we base our practice on what the evidence tells us we should… but, recently, there is a lot of controversy over the evidence that is so often thrown around as absolute truth. It makes me wonder – what the hell happened? The media hastily presents their interpretation of someone else’s interpretation of a scientific study, and all of the sudden that’s the end of the story. There’s never any mention of the limitations of the study, the methodology, or the fact that when we find results they really are simply more building blocks for more questions and answers and should hardly be considered truths (especially if the study was conducted short-term and only in a specific population). These are the research methods-based concepts that every trained scientists knows, but often times can be easily forgotten when scrounging for grant money to keep your lab (i.e. your life) afloat. Additionally, throw some monetary gain (in the form of a patent or high paying government position) into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for some biased research, which is unfortunately what seems to be creating some false truths and guiding much of the policies today.
However, people are becoming more savvy. Even without being trained in scientific research methods, people are beginning to understand that they are being fed a bunch of crap from the media, the government, and even from their conventional doctors (of course chemotherapy is safe and effective! Don’t mind the fact that you will die from the long-lasting harmful effects of the chemo after we get you to be “cancer-free” so our treatments look good on paper). The problem is that one day we hear that “X is bad for us”, the next day we hear “X is good for us”… or “don’t worry about the side effects”… the public can only take this for a few years before they start to just ignore science – but, unfortunately, this is also a dangerous situation. We do need science, at least good science, to help keep us informed and continue to evolve.
Science guides our search for knowledge, and our search for the truth. Science can also provide innovation and cutting edge technology, which can be great for society… And, science can also be manipulated. We know this to be the truth. So I was pleased to see recently, from various sources, a desire to make the scientific community more responsible for their work. Specifically, several prestigious journals are auditing research studies, and will be attempting to replicate findings in order to better inform the field and the public. Additionally, other esteemed journals have already conducted some audits, and the findings were quite disturbing…
In the cancer studies alone, 88% (47 of 53) of the foundational studies (which have guided further research on treatment procedures) were unable to be replicated. Does this mean that the studies were conducted fraudulently? I don’t necessarily think that is possibly the case for each study, and I think that some may have had an incredible amount of bias due to the fact that identifying functions of cancer can aid in the development of treatments that can be patented and make a great deal of money for said researchers (and, let’s face it… cancer isn’t going away any time soon considering the toxic environment in which we live). We also know that error occurs in research, and that hypotheses must be tested in a variety of conditions (different labs, different researchers, different motivations, et cetera) in order to determine if they are true… and if they are, the results are still only applicable to that moment in that population under those conditions.
So, at this point, I would imagine you are wondering what the point of science even is in the first place… For me, I still appreciate what science has to offer, despite the fact that there are tons of errors, and the fact that the answer to one question leads us to a series of many more questions. I think the public just needs to start taking responsibility for their understanding of research, and holding researchers and our government responsible, hiring independent researchers to replicate studies, and requiring multiple testing (or at least testing! For example, GMOs were never determined to be safe, but you can find them in your food – not that the government requires it to be labeled – if you are diligent and do your research) before approving legislation that is important for our health and wellbeing. That being said, I will leave you with a series of basic concepts that you can consider when you hear about an FDA-approved drug, a new form of diagnostic screening, a food or vitamin that is dangerous, or a vaccine that doesn’t cause autism/seizures/autoimmune disorders.
1) Who was it tested on? Was it tested on pregnant women, children, infants, men, old men, Hispanic men, religious women, adolescents in Nebraska, college students, et cetera? Maybe the population was like you, but maybe it wasn’t at all… These are important things to understand.
2) How long was the study conducted? Did the randomized controlled trial go on for six months, two years, ten years et cetera? I would feel a lot more comfortable taking a drug that I knew was tested on a large (think hundreds to thousands of people) over the longest period of time possible in order to determine safety. Unfortunately, because people often have business cronies that used to head their major biotect/pharmaceutical firm posted up in the FDA, drugs can be approved with minimum testing for safety, leaving you in danger. Think about it: If a drug was only tested for safety for a few months, but your doctor is recommending you take it for life (e.g. an autoimmune drug, a anti-epeleptic drug, a blood pressure or high cholesterol drug), how do you know it is safe? Answer: You don’t.
3) What type of vitamin/drug/treatment was tested? For example, a Vitamin D study could look at supplementing with Vitamin D1, D2, D3, D4, or D5… And, wait, what form was it in? How was it administered? If it wasn’t administered with a fatty meal, how do you know the participant absorbed it? What was the quality of the supplement? Was it mass produced or produced in small batches? I could conclude that fish oil caused mercury poisoning if I looked at supplements that weren’t detoxified and produced in large batches that weren’t molecularly distilled… but then I could only say that that type of fish oil that was handled in that manner causes mercury poisoning – not that ALL fish oil causes an issue. Make sense?
4) Was it tested with other drugs? Sure, maybe an antidepressant is safe on its own, but did they look at the effects of the antidepressant + the blood clot medicine that you’re taking? Who knows what the short- and long-term effects are for mixing various pharmaceuticals/treatments!?!
5) Do these statistics make sense? Unfortunately, you also might need to familiarize yourself with some statistical skills – or make a buddy that has some, because researchers and the media can spin stats in such a way that the average person would never be able to understand. If you don’t get the statistics of a study, just know that there are different ways in which the statistics can be conducted and the results can be interpreted to conclude significant findings, but this may not mean anything at all… (click here to read up on how you can fudge statistics and misrepresent the truth).
While it is unfortunate (in some ways) that we have to put extra effort into everything and can’t just take what everyone says at face value, this also allows us an opportunity to learn about the choices that we have in every day life. Most everything we currently engage in is tested scientifically, and there is never one answer for any question… this allows us the chance to figure out what resonates with us in our own lives. You can separate yourself from the average and use your inherent intuition to do what is best for you and your family. So, that being said, embrace science as a means for open-ended thinking, and an avenue for guidance in the direction that you are heading. Remember, our kind once thought the earth was flat and that plastic was a life-saver… that slavery was acceptable, and war is necessary a part of human interaction. We now know better, and I would bet my bottom dollar that when we look back years from now our beliefs will have continued evolving over time… and, we can thank good, pure, unbiased science for moving us along our evolutionary path.