THE CONUNDRUM OF CONFLICTING SCIENTIFIC STUDIES
Scientists validate their findings through empirical studies, experiments and observation using objective, rational and verifiable methodologies. Scientific research is no longer considered as an esoteric practice; it is vigorously pursued in labs and universities across the world. The West leads the pack in the number of papers published in journals.
Scientific studies, by their very nature, can never claim the status of a settled proposition. Falsifiability is a strength and not a weakness of science. The only touchstone of innovation is that it should stimulate debates on new perspectives.
But the sheer volume of research and the rapidity with which scientific truths and findings change and contradict one another present a serious case of credibility about the outcome of the so called studies. Bombarded with a battery of findings that posit opposite conclusions, the general public finds it difficult to make sense of the research and ends up confused as how to interpret the data presented.
The longevity of scientific theories has shortened to such an extent that today’s wisdom is debunked as tomorrow’s superstition.
Some long held views have been overturned in recent studies. It was held as a gospel truth that one should eat breakfast like a king. This view has been challenged by some studies which found that short meals in breaks will help the body to absorb nutrients better than the one heavy meal.
Aspirin was held out as a wonder drug to prevent heart attacks. Some recent studies speak of serious risks posed by regular use of Aspirin. Another study has ‘debunked’ the long held belief that milk is a wholesome food. It says that consumption of milk is linked to the prevalence of many diseases including cancer.
Some researchers have ‘discovered’ that ‘moderate’ consumption of alcohol is beneficial in many respects.
All these studies come with a disclaimer about their inconclusiveness- that is the findings have to be corroborated by extensive research. It is like saying we have found something new, but we are not too sure whether the findings are credible.
One reason why short term research with a narrow scope and sample are gaining popularity is that longitudinal studies are expensive and time consuming.
There are allegations that many studies have been sponsored by lobbies aiming to promote hidden business agendas. For instance, coconut oil, despite its health benefits, has been the victim of biased research allegedly sponsored by certain vested interests seeking to promote the use of other cooking oils. Fortunately, tender coconut water has so far escaped from being discredited as a super health drink.
Practitioners of modern medicine have, although belatedly, accepted the mind-body connection. It is well known that a positive outlook can help patients ward off diseases and help to fight cancer. Some recent studies ‘claim’ that mental attitudes have no bearing on the progression of cancer. Cancer can ravage the body, but can never subdue the dignity and self-respect of courageous people. It is as if somebody is afraid that cheerful cancer patients will stop taking their medicines. The sponsors of the study (drug industry?) are waging a psychological battle against the unfortunate victims of the dreaded disease.
The general public has the right to demand as to why such ‘grand’ claims should be published in prestigious scientific journals. It is a devious way of lending undeserved legitimacy to dubious studies. Research not backed by rigorous and objective experimentation and observation cannot be allowed to ride piggyback on science.
The next time you come across some sensational scientific findings treat them with a healthy dose of skepticism. More importantly, find out who has sponsored the study.
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