This week, in my continuing crusade against misinformation and encouraging readers to educate themselves, I would like to take some time to dispel some common myths regarding science, research and medicine.
I often encourage our readers to do their own research so as to form their own opinions on current issues. However doing your own research is useless if you don’t understand what the research is.
There are a few things to keep in mind when examining scientific studies for the benefit of education and forming an opinion. First of all, keep in mind that familiar terms to us can mean different things in the scientific community.
For example, in the scientific community, we hear a lot about research and what that research shows, finds or proves. None of these words are entirely accurate to describe the results of scientific studies.
When a study states it found that people who smoke are more likely to develop cancer than those who don’t, it is more accurate to say that the study found that, among those participating in the study, those who smoke were more likely to have cancer.
Secondly, it’s important to recognize that it takes a lot of objective research to determine anything in the scientific community. To expand on the previous example, one study of 10 people where the five smokers developed cancer and five non-smokers did not develop cancer does not prove that smoking causes cancer. At best, this study would suggest there may be a link between the two.
Of course, when this link was first suggested, scientists did a great deal more research into the possible link between smoking and cancer with many, many studies and now we know that the two are in fact linked.
This brings me to my third point -science is continuously doing more research, which changes what we thought we knew about the world.
As science continues to evolve and research is done, science learns more, which often changes beliefs previously held to be true. Ptolemy believed the sun revolved around the earth. Because of research by other intellectuals and scientists, we now know this not to be true – the earth and other planets instead revolve around the sun.
We see often in the medical community how new knowledge from scientific studies can change things. When a new disorder, disease or other condition is discovered, little is known about it.
It is difficult for doctors to recognize it, to diagnose it and treatment can be limited or completely nonexistent. As more is learned about the condition, it becomes more recognizable and more treatments exist to deal with the problem.
As such, we see an increase in the amount of diagnoses of the conditions.
Sometimes, this jump in diagnoses can be mistaken for increased spread of the condition. However, it is often just a case of more people, who previously would have gone undiagnosed, being properly identified as having the condition.
Which brings me to my final point of research, science and medicine. Increased frequency in a medical condition, disorder or disease does not constitute an epidemic.
Sometimes, we accuse doctors, pharmaceutical companies and researchers of making up or over-diagnosing conditions as a way to make money. We accuse those suffering from these conditions as lazy people who want a convenient excuse for their problems or excuse their conditions ourselves as the fault of medical professionals.
Again, I’m not going to say that is right or wrong, though I of course have my own opinions on the matter. Instead, I will advocate for the same thing I always do – do your own research, educate yourself and most importantly, understand what it is you are learning about.