Scientific progress: Does it really go boink?

I’m going to put on my scientist hat for a minute.

scientist hats?

scientist hats?

Bear with me. Health information and misinformation is ubiquitous and highly confusing. Let’s look at why:

The scientific literature generally means peer-reviewed journals that publish the results of studies, reviews of existing evidence, commentaries, and other work generally by academics and researchers, and sometimes also by clinicians. People whose work is published in these journals usually have advanced degrees, and so do the people who review and edit them. Often the articles published here are pretty technical and include things like descriptions of the sample, the procedures that were followed, statistical analyses, and discussions of the implications and limitations of the studies. Often reading, interpreting, and critiquing these articles requires knowledge of the methods and sometimes of the subject matter.

The popular press means newspapers, magazines, sometimes websites. . . with an intended audience of pretty much anyone, regular folks. They publish stories intended to interest, entertain, and sometimes inform people, and sometimes to sell magazines or get more clicks. They use headlines like “Superfoods for weight loss!” and “The truth about what time of day to workout for the best results”. What’s going on here? These writers/editors are sometimes pulling from the scientific literature, but they’re taking results out of context and treating them as though they generalize to everyone, everywhere, all the time— and feeding our collective lust for sexy “quick fix” stories. Then, we try them, we don’t get immidiate transformative results, and we decide this science stuff is BS. Fail.

News flash: A finding that was statistically significant among 25 Scandanavian octogenarians DOES NOT MEAN IT’S READY FOR PRIME TIME!! Put that in your science oven, Jennifer Lawrence.

So what do we do? Just use common sense. Don’t try stuff that seems crazy. Ask your healthcare provider, or do some more research. Try something it it seems safe and reasonable to you. Remind yourself that, if this was really the answer, everyone would be doing it! And remember, there’s not such thing as a miracle cure. OK? Ok.

4 thoughts on “Scientific progress: Does it really go boink?

  1. Bean says:

    So many people are looking for a direct answer to a specific problem that doesn’t require any work. The inherent Lazy Factor rears it’s ugly head and the ‘popular studies’ run with it.

    Shameful.

    Glad some people know to actually do research and know how to ask questions.

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