What Should I Believe?

evidenceIf you’ve been following along with my blogs over the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed one thing. None of the conclusions I find are particularly exciting, alarming, or new.

Typically, extraordinary claims turn out to be false. If it sounds too good (or too bad) to be true, it probably is. With the exception of minor nuance, the status quo and the general medical consensus are usually right on point.

Why? Because we really do have expert scientists testing medical and nutritional ideas constantly. Contrary to what some fringe doctors would have you believe, the mainstream medical community does not have the wool pulled over their eyes. They are not being duped by pharmaceutical companies. There is nothing that “your doctor doesn’t want you to know”.

Every now and then, mainstream scientific consensus is proven wrong. However, this is the exception and not the rule. When proven wrong, the scientific consensus changes. Science doesn’t have an agenda. People, however, do not readily change their minds when the science changes.

I could get deep into the psychology of why people believe things that are not likely to be true. But, let’s just accept the fact that we have all been susceptible to false beliefs at some time. Everyone needs to be careful to make sure they aren’t persuaded by anecdotes or quasi-scientific research and jargon (or worse; fooled by charlatans, “fake news”, or conspiracies).

To illustrate my point, here’s a peer reviewed article demonstrating how unlikely conspiracy theories are to be true.

On the Viability of Conspiratorial Beliefs (2016) https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0147905

Of course, not all false information out there can be classified as a “conspiracy theory”. Much of what we find in the nutrition realm are simply unproven hypotheses being pushed by people who stand to make a few bucks, or even doctors who have anecdotal evidence that their methods work. Their logic may seem sound, but at the end of the day, their advice is not proven to work better than the status quo.

Many professionals use cherry-picked studies and misinterpreted science to convince people that their treatments are legitimate.

IF YOU GO LOOKING FOR A STUDY TO SUPPORT YOUR CLAIM, YOU WILL PROBABLY FIND ONE.

That’s why you have to use the scientific method in order to find out what’s true. You have to ask the question (Does X work best?) first and then look for all the research. If you start with the answer (X works best) and then look for supporting evidence, your conclusion may be inaccurate. You may find the 5% of research that supports X and miss the 95% of research that doesn’t.

However, when people get really excited about an idea or when they are trying to sell a product, they go about the research in the wrong order. They only look for materials to support their claims. That puts the responsibility on the consumer to do the research the right way. The best way to do this is the way I research topics for my blog. However, I understand that peer-reviewed databases aren’t for the faint of heart.

Here is a list of some of my favorite lay-person-friendly fact-checking websites for high quality medical and nutritional information:

Sciencebasedmedicine.org: This is one of the best sites on the internet. It’s a wonderful source of truth for all things medial. The authors crack down on fraud and hype, and pseudoscience in logical and easy-to-understand articles.

Quackwatch.org: This site keeps a list of quack physicians and links to help you understand why they can’t be trusted.

Snopes.com: This is a reliable source of information for all claims that need fact-checking.

Rationalwiki.org: This is another good source for fact-checking on topics ranging from nutrition to politics to conspiracy theories.

Nutrition Diva (quick and dirty tips podcast or website): She’s covered every nutrition topic under the sun in her weekly podcasts which are usually about 8 minutes long. Her insights are research based, balanced, and practical.

Google: If you start hearing about some new nutrition claim that sounds too good (or too bad) to be true, just google it with the words “fact check” or “quack”. Take a look at what the opposition has to say before blindly believing Karen in accounting.

I’ll end with a quote from Steven Novella of Science-Based Medicine.

“Complementary and alternative medicine is complementary and alternative medicine because it is not science-based. If it were, it would not be “alternative” medicine; it would be medicine.”

 

Author: Tara

Skeptical health and fitness enthusiast (and also speech-language pathologist)

One thought on “What Should I Believe?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s