Whenever I see a headline that begins with "New Study Proves...", I skip over it and move on to the next one. I love science, and I even like studies, but I have a big problem with the way studies are framed today, especially in the media. There are two major things wrong with these so-called scientific studies, which, combined, give us misleading and often outright incorrect headlines which many of us use to inform our decisions.
The first principle that is crucial to understand is that correlation is not the same thing as causation. For example, people who send their children to private schools are more likely to be convicted of stock market fraud than those who don't.
New Study Shows That Sending Children to Private School Could Lead to Criminal Behavior in Parents!
Well, no. People who have the money to send their kids to private school are more likely to be in a position to conduct stock frauds. There is a link between the two things, but it is not a causal link. In other words, sending your children to private school is not going to turn you into a criminal.
You see this in diet and health studies all the time. Scientists realized that people who ate a lot of saturated fat had high levels of saturated fat. That caused people to eat less saturated fat and replace those calories with refined sugars.
But what happened then? People's saturated fat went even higher. It turns out that dietary saturated fat does not increase bodily saturated fat, but refined carbohydrate does. People who ate a lot of red meat also happened to eat a lot of refined carbohydrate. In this case, following the advice of the "research" actually made the problem worse.
This happens all the time, because the motivation of many writers and "journalists" is to get clicks and views, not to inform people and improve their health. This is a major conflict of interest.
Let's say, though, that you read the study and determine that it actually did hone in on causality by altering only one variable, and having a control. They determine, with 99% confidence that eating red crayons cures cancer. Do you eat red crayons to cure your cancer?
Not so fast...
What if a mad scientist, sure that the cure to cancer lay in crayons, hired 100 teams to test 100 different colors? If they required a 99% confidence interval, it's very likely that one of the teams would have a false positive. Small percentages, even 1% ones, pop up sometimes.
The other teams have no reason to publish their work. They weren't able to prove anything, so they start work on their next study. Meanwhile, to the red crayon team, it appears they've discovered a miracle. It's time to publish and get their name in the lights!
Later, of course, another team would try to replicate the results and realize that red crayons don't actually cure cancer. But no one who read the buzzfeed article saying that they did work would ever hear about that study. It's not a good headline.
Crayon-eating may be farfetched, but think of how many teams there are across the world, all desperately trying to figure things out. Many improbable results will appear to be true, the scientists themselves will believe them, and the public gets misled.
I love science. Even the process by which these studies are done deserves little blame. Finding correlation and preliminary results are just the first step. The problem is when we take this first step to mean more than it does and make changes based on it. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the most unlikely "cures" and "hidden dangers" are the ones that we want most to hear about. Solid incremental research takes time, but fluke findings and correlation as causation is quick, easy and punchy.
Trust science, be skeptical of studies.
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I don't know, your headline is catchy but kind of contradictory with the wording. The better title would be of been Distrust of Media which is far more accurate not just about how they present scientific studies but practically everything and anything they cover. You say you love science and even studies but then there's something wrong with "scientific studies" which I'm assuming means "media's presentation of scientific studies". Any grad student learns the difference between causation and correlation in their first semester. Most scientists are cautious to ever make conclusive, generalized statements because they know it's never that simple.
The Media aka the "24/7 only way we can make money now is via a ton of views and advertising" is at fault for twisting everything. What holds attention makes money. A lot of blogs follow a similar curse.Scientific studies on diet and nutrition are almost impossible because of the difficulty in finding any population willing to go through arduous life changes for months or years at a time. Michael Pollan writes about this really well.
I wanted to say that I felt the same way. There's generally nothing wrong with the way studies present their results. The problem is the way the media misconstrues and misrepresents the findings when they do their reporting. Sometimes it's harmless ignorance, other times it's sleazy clickbaitism (or worse.)
When you look further though, this problem applies to literally everything the media reports on. It doesn't only affect the reporting of scientific studies. I think it may be a bigger problem with science though when it comes to the reader/viewer's critical thought and accepting of the facts being presented. Most people assume that you may not be getting the whole story when some sort of political he-said she-said story is being reported on, but fail to employ such discretion when it comes to scientific reporting.
"The other teams have no reason to publish their work."
This is actually the mistake they make, because, in science, no result is also a result. They should publish and then you see that most of the studies show no effect.
Well, thank heaven ... there is a God ... Thank you for speaking my mind so eloquently! Sincere thanks for writing this out loud. More accurate studies come from a source (or sources) who have no vested interest in either outcome ... And a blind study with large groups, preferably. Validate the source, eh? Thanks again, Tynan!
Besides increasing our skepticism and knowledge of science (and how it works), how are we to really ascertain the truth behind studies, especially when they (or the news reports on them) are the "face" of said science? I know so many people (I'm guilty too) who try something once, twice or a few times and then make a "final" decision, whether it be on health/medicine/, education, dating or really anything for that matter. It's frustrating to watch myself and others be prey to our inability to find answers that already exist (like the safety/effectiveness of vaccines, the efficiency and benefits of SRS, etc..)
Hi, Tynan check out this site which is called Spurious Correlations. It's exactly what you wrote! Funny too. http://tylervigen.com/
Everything you eat is primarily made up of three macronutrients, or building blocks: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Today I'm going to focus on what I've learned about carbohydrates, because they make up the bulk of most people's diets and they offer the biggest opportunity for diet improvement.
First off, I want to say that I hate how people use the word “diet”. My blood boils when I hear someone say something like ,”I gained a few pounds, looks like I need to go on a diet.” Such a statement implies that a diet is a temporary way of eating healthier until you lose a few pounds, then you can go back to eating whatever you want.
The way I see things, your diet is how you always eat. It is long-term, which means that you need a diet you can live with. Temporarily eating in a very restrictive manner only makes you crave unhealthier foods even more, and promotes “ballooning” or constantly going up and down in weight. Ballooning is an unhealthy, stressful way to live. A healthy diet is one that you can live with for your whole life. This means that restriction and bland health food products are not an option, as it would require tremendous willpower to stick to. Conversely, the other end of the spectrum, with cheeseburgers, milkshakes, and the like, is also unsustainable because of the associated health risks.
What does all of this mean? The optimal diet is one that is healthy for you and that you enjoy eating. That almost sounds too easy. The reality is that it is slightly less easy than it sounds. The hard part is wading through all of the conflicting dietary advice and figuring out what is actually healthy for you. Then, you can prepare meals that you enjoy while incorporating these dietary ideals. This is exactly what I did to create my diet, which I have named The Healthier Diet, in the spirit of this blog.
The Healthier Diet combines elements of traditional dietary advice with some more unconventional ideas. I would say if anything, it is closest to the Paleo Diet, but still very different. The Paleo Diet gets a lot of things wrong, especially when it comes to fitness, but it also gets some things right. My Healthier Diet is based on a few core ideas. Mainly, that the prevalence of heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, and cancer present in modern society is not a product of a high-cholesterol diet, but a result of eating too many refined sugars. I’m too lazy to find a citation on this but feel free to do more research if you would like. I won’t go into the science here, but there are three main takeaways:
1. Dietary cholesterol alone has little effect on blood serum cholesterol. Only when large amounts of cholesterol are consumed along with saturated fats will your blood cholesterol levels rise. One of the main places the Paleo Diet fails is that it doesn’t restrict saturated fat intake.