“Just a few years ago scientists were saying fat is bad, and now they are saying fat is good!? F*** science it can’t be trusted”, “Studies are always coming up with conflicting results. I don’t trust science.”
We hear these arguments every day, but we truly believe that EVERYONE loves science if they UNDERSTAND how it works. So here are three things to understand about science.
- Have you ever reflect over WHY certain studies come to different conclusions? The answer is CONTEXT. Depending on the situation studied, a study might, for example, conclude that fat is “good” of “bad”. Telling obese people who already eat too much to eat more fat may for example be a bad idea, while telling vitamin A deficient underweight people to eat more fat might be a good idea. So rather than abandon science and reason altogether, dig deeper and ask WHY studies look different.
- Secondly, all studies are not created equal. Observational studies can find “links” between things that aren’t necessarily true. Just because tall people have bigger shoes doesn’t mean wearing bigger shoes will make you tall. Similarly, an observational study finding that people who eat more carbs have more diabetes doesn’t mean that an experimental study giving people carbs will make them get diabetes.
- Lastly, individual studies can sometime get fluke results (“lucky” findings). This is more likely in studies with SMALL numbers of participants and observational studies. Therefore, we need MANY studies with to be able to be sure that a finding from a single study is reliable. That’s why scientists always use words like “may” and “seems like” and “probably”, BECAUSE no ONE study is enough. It’s about the bigger picture. A META-ANALYSIS is a way of combining results from many studies to get a bigger picture of what all research says on a topic, with the risk of mixing different contexts.
So context, study quality and the bigger picture are all important things to keep in mind. A true scientist takes all of this into consideration and is therefore careful to make recommendations. As more research emerges, we can be more certain about if a fact is true or not, but always understand WHAT research is needed to make us change our perception of a topic. Thus, updating guidelines should make you trust science MORE, as it shows maturity and humility in wanting to understand the world around us.
Sadly, we can never really be 100% sure that we have understood reality, but science is as close as we can get. This perspective on reality is called post positivism, a type of critical realism.
Stay evidence based!