How to distinguish the scientific evidence from speculation
Books / / December 19, 2019
It would seem that it is easy to be wise after the strong and modern positions to assess the achievements and failures of the past dark science. But let's see what happens if we have through experience learned from the mistakes and successes of previous generations, we estimate some modern inventions and opening - say, electronic cigarettes, preservatives, chemical resins, cure autism, cancer screening programs and genetically modified organisms (GMO).
1. It's all about the data
If different scientists conducting research in dissimilar conditions and different methods, but at the same time get the same results, then the results can be considered true. If you ignore them, the consequences can be dire.
It would seem that everything is very simple: look at the data and act accordingly. But the problem is that too much data.
Every day, in medical and scientific journals published about 4000 works. It is easy to assume that the quality of research is very different, they are described by the bell curve Gaussian distribution: there are side "tails" - an excellent work on the one hand, and frankly horrible with other; but most of the material - a more or less appropriate - are placed in the middle of the distribution. How can separate the true information from worthless?
First of all, you can pay attention to the quality of the publication. However, it does not always work properly. For example, it is in good peer-reviewed scientific journals published information that the excessive consumption of coffee causes cancer of the pancreas; MMR vaccine (Measles, mumps, and rubella) provokes autism, fusion (the union of two nuclei release of energy) can occur at room temperature in a glass of water ( "cold fusion synthesis"). All these observations were later refuted by other researchers. ( "World problem is not that people know too little - wrote Mark Twain - and that they know too much wrong.")
So, if there is no reason to fully trust the observations published in the first-class scientific journals, what to believe?
The answer is this: science is based on two pillars, and one of them is a reliable friend. The first pillar - expert evaluation. Before publishing her work is evaluated and criticize the experts in this field. Unfortunately, there are problems: not all experts are equally qualified, so sometimes slip inaccurate data in the logs. The second thing you need to be sure to pay attention to - the reproducibility of the experiment. If the researchers write something out of science fiction (for example, that the MMR vaccine causes autism), the subsequent studies or confirm the data or not.
For example, almost immediately after the publication of information that the MMR vaccine causes autism, hundreds of scientists in Europe, Canada and the United States have tried to repeat the experiments to prove it. Did not work out.
After hundreds of studies costing tens of millions of dollars and involving hundreds of thousands of children revealed that those who were vaccinated, autism It is developing not more likely than those who were not inoculated. This science has won.
2. Everything has a price; the only question is, how big it is
Costly for even the most advanced and significant scientific and medical discoveries that save the most lives and deserves recognition all over the world (for example, antibiotics or sanitation Events). As it turned out, no exceptions.
Sulfanilamide - the first antibiotic - invented in the mid 30-ies of XX century. Then there was penicillin, which started to mass-produce during World War II. Antibiotics have saved our lives. If they were not, people would continue to die naturally of pneumonia, meningitis, and other potentially fatal bacterial infections. Partly due to these drugs, the average life expectancy is now 30 years, more than a hundred years ago. But, in addition to the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, one of the consequences of their application was quite unpredictable.
The last ten years or so, researchers are studying the so-called microbe - bacteria, covering the surface of the skin, intestines, nose and throat. More recently, it has been found quite surprising their property: their number and type, you can determine whether a person will develop diabetes, asthma, allergies or obesity. What is even more interesting if antibiotics affect the child's bacteria, increases the risk of violations. Here everything is clear: it is necessary to use antibiotics, but if you overdo it, you can do much harm, if necessary.
The bottom line is that everything has its price. The task - to find out whether it is necessary to pay for a particular technology such price. And we should not blindly trust a certain method only because they have been around for decades or even centuries. Any way you need to be reviewed periodically. Perhaps the best example is the general anesthesia.
Anesthetics have been around for more than 150 years, but only recently became clear that they can cause problems with attention and memory that last for years. "We can not exclude the guilt of any anesthetic," - says Roderick Ekenhoff, professor of anesthesiology at the University of Pennsylvania.
3. Beware the Zeitgeist
In today's world branded three new technologies: e-cigarettes (Because nobody likes the image of teenage smokers, even if in fact he does not inhale the smoke); GMO (since an attempt to alter the natural course of things gives arrogant) and bisphenol A (TPA), since this resin is dry released from plastic, which are made from baby bottles. All three technologies have fallen victim to scientific studies proving their harm. And all were affected by the media.
But a negative opinion in the media should not blind us and not allow to look at the evidence.
For the first time the electronic cigarette - a kind of steam inhalers batteries, through which you can breathe the nicotine without the use of tobacco, - appeared in the US in 2006. Evaporating liquid further comprises propylene glycol, glycerol and some flavor, odor e.g. Belgian waffles or chocolate. <...> Electronic cigarettes universally condemn virtually all scientists, doctors and government officials responsible for public health. And it is easy to understand why.
First of all, nicotine is a highly addictive and potentially dangerous, especially to the developing fetus. In addition, it can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, nervous condition, and heart palpitations. But most electronic cigarettes do not contain nicotine.
In addition, electronic cigarettes produce major tobacco companies such as Altria, Reynolds and Imperial. Their leadership emphasizes the fact that a product like some kind of exit strategy for those who want to quit smoking. But so far, these devices have not yet earned the trust of Americans. In 2012, the electronic cigarette manufacturers spent more than $ 18 million on advertising in magazines and on television. Unlike conventional cigarettes, the advertising of which is prohibited since 1971, electrons can be freely promoted. As a result, the industry turnover of production and sales in the US totaled $ 3.5 billion per year, it was forecast that by the mid 2020s sales volume will exceed the sale of electronic cigarettes ordinary.
And to top it all, as well as advertising of cigarettes Camel with Camel Joe Camel, some commercials electronic cigarettes are designed to attract the attention of young people.
In 2013, about 250,000 teens who had never smoked, try electronic cigarettes. In 2014, nearly 1.6 million American students of senior and middle classes have tried them, that is, the number has increased dramatically in comparison with the previous year. In fact, in the United States for more than 10% of students in upper secondary schools have tried to smoke electronic cigarettes. At first glance it seems that it is only a matter of time, and at one point a huge wave of children with electronic cigarettes engulf society, and they will become those adults who smoke regular cigarettes and die of cancer lungs. It turns out, the electronic cigarette can lead to the fact that the United States will die 480 000 people more, and annual spending on health care and because of the loss of productivity caused by smoking cigarettes will increase by 300 billion dollars.
For all these reasons, the American Society for the fight against cancer, the American Lung Association, control centers and disease prevention, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposed to electronic cigarettes. And when I first touched this theme, I was confident that eventually heartily agree with them. But there is one problem - the data.
Due to the sharp increase in the use of electronic cigarettes in normal smoking over the last five years dropped to an unprecedented level in history, including among young people. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite the fact that the use of electronic cigarettes has tripled from 2013 to 2014-th, the use of conventional considerably decreased. In 2005, 20.9% of adults smoked cigarettes; By 2014, there were 16.8%, therefore the total number of Americans smoking has decreased by 20%. Moreover, in 2014 the number of Americans who smoke cigarettes for the first time in 50 years fell below 40 million. In states where they supported the idea that electronic cigarettes are just substitutes for conventional and banned the sale of such options to minors, noted the growth of smoking cigarettes in this age group. And there is no doubt that electronic substitutes safer; Unlike conventional, they are not deposited in the body causing cancer resin or that cause heart disease waste combustion, such as carbon monoxide. "People smoke to get the nicotine, but die from tar", - said Michael Russell, one of the first doctors treating nicotine dependence.
Maybe it's just a coincidence. Probably, there are other reasons why cigarette smoking is reduced, and they have nothing to do with the increasing use of electronic cigarettes. But it is too early to judge the electronic version, considering it is only a bridge to conventional smoking when at first glance seems a good return. Time will tell. No matter what the terms of a specific cultural tradition of electronic cigarettes - is evil; important are data only.
As electronic cigarettes, GM also fell victim to the spirit of the times.
GMO It refers to any living organism that possesses "obtained through the use of modern biotechnology novel combination of genetic material." Key phrase - "modern biotechnology", because, in truth, we are genetically change our environment since the beginning of recorded history. People began to reclaim plants and domesticate animals, using breeding or artificial selection, 12 000 years before our era, and everything in order to select the type of specific genetic traits. That is, this selection was the forerunner of modern genetic modification. However, environmentalists were amazed at the arrogance of scientists, when they decided to rebuild the DNA in laboratory conditions, to change nature.
Now genetic bioengineering most used in food production. Thanks to her, began to crops more resistant to pests, extreme temperatures and environmental conditions, as well as to certain diseases. Also with the help of genetic modification culture with improved nutritional point of view, they have increased shelf life and resistance to herbicides. In the United States 94% soybean, 96% cotton and 93% corn genetically modified; in developing countries it is 54% of the crop. Consequences, especially for farmers in developing countries, is impressive. Thanks to the technology of GMOs reduce the use of chemical pesticides 37%, crop yields increased by 22%, and the profit of farmers - 68%. Although the seeds of genetically modified crops are more expensive, the cost is easily offset by the reduction of pesticide use and higher yields.
Many people fear that genetically modified foods pose a greater risk to health than other products, but careful research shows that the reasons for concern not.
American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences supported the use of GMOs. Even the European Union, which never really GMOs is not supported, is forced to reckon with it. In 2010, the European Commission said: "The main conclusion to be drawn in view of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years and containing more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology and in particular GMO, no more dangerous than conventional breeding technologies plants. "
Despite the fact that all the science is clear, the public continues to be concerned. A recent poll by Gallup showed that 48% of Americans believe, if genetically modified foods pose a serious risk to consumers. Many of those surveyed prefer to see on the product label, warning about the presence of GMO: if they can not buy them. According to the same survey, we are ready not to take into account not only science, but also history. Due to the selection and cultivation of "natural" crops that we grow now, very little resemblance to their ancestors. From a practical point of view of a farmer using a random mutation to grow a particular crop is no different from someone who deliberately creates this mutation. What's the first that the second - the same mutation.
In addition, GM technology is used to make essential medicines: insulin diabetes, protein coagulation for patients with hemophilia and growth hormone for children with short stature.
Previously, these products prepared from porcine pancreas, blood donors and pituitary glands of dead people.
However, there are still those who oppose GMOs. Most recently, the Web went the story of a tomato containing the gene of fish. Image Frankenstein only spur more environmentalists insist on labeling foods with GMOs. Steven Novella, assistant professor of the School of Medicine at Yale University and the creator of the podcast The Skeptics Guide to the Universe ( «the Universe Guide for skeptics "), it is best summed it up:" In fact, the question is not whether there is a genetically modified tomato gene fish. Who cares? - he wrote. - It's not that dangerous to eat fish gene in nature - the people eat this fish. In addition, according to some estimates in humans and fish about 70% of the genes are identical. Do you have the genes of fish, and all the plants that you eat, eat fish genes. Get over it! "
Paul Offit - a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases, in vaccines expert, immunology and virology. In his new book, "Pandora's box. Seven stories of how science can bring us harm, "he teaches the reader to understand the flow of information and discard pseudo data. Offit debunks myths that served under the guise of science and calls not to believe everything you read in the newspapers, especially when it comes to health.
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