Whom Do You Trust?
Following media about health trends can be like watching a ping pong game—or worse, finding yourself in the middle of a contentious strata council meeting. Ever changing, ever conflicting, the information available is confounding.
I’ve read commentaries that say you must go to the original sources for your information, but I suggest you be skeptical of any lay person who claims to have done so.
First of all, you have to get to these studies, and many are behind firewalls, inaccessible without university library privileges.
Even if you do gain access the studies, they are often badly written, abstruse, and esoteric.
It is rare for studies to give clear-cut answers to anything, especially where humans are concerned. (If you believe in the validity of nutrition studies, check out what Christie Aschwanden of FiveThirtyEight has to say.)
Never mind the multitude of interpretations for any given study.
And then there are the studies that are simply poorly done; to discern the problems in these takes skills that many, if not most, of us don’t have.
Note, too, that one study alone does not provide a definitive answer to anything. Studies must be replicated and placed in context in order to provide as complete a picture as possible. Who other than a scientist specializing in a given subject has the time, let alone the resources, to dig up every study on a given topic, subject them all to rigorous scrutiny, and come to educated conclusions about them?
No, what happens is that people masquerading as experts read a bunch of abstracts found in a PubMed search, cherry-pick a handful that appear to back up their stand, and trumpet their opinions as the absolute truth.
Or sometimes they simply make up something that kind of sounds good.
So what do I recommend?
Find experts who present balanced viewpoints, who state opinions but back them up with a combination of evidence and practical experience, making allowances for possible shortcomings in their information. Check out their credentials. Be cautious if they are trying to sell you something (although in this day and age, selling books or educational programs is probably legit).
And if you’re reading blogs from people like me—people with solid knowledge who have walked the walk and can talk to you as equals—do read our words with some skepticism. Treat us as accessible routes to good, solid information but check out our sources, read other blogs, and weigh and ultimately balance different perspectives for yourselves.
Watch this space as my blog evolves. I’ve got some good resources to share.