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WHO TO TRUST?

I once tried to convince a friend with heart disease of the benefits of a vegan diet. I told him studies had shown that high cholesterol levels, which cause plaque to form in the arteries, are associated with diets high in meat, whose saturated fat content causes cholesterol levels in the blood to go up. An avowed carnivore, not to mention one who likes a good debate, my friend came back at me with studies he claimed showed no association between saturated fat intake and cholesterol levels. The culprit, he said, was sugar intake, and so it was fruit he should avoid, not the turkey burgers and chicken breasts he so loved. I replied rather cheekily that for any study that shows x, you can find a study showing not x, and since life can be characterized as an experiment of one, and the habit of eating meat had left my friend with a clogged coronary artery, then he should ignore the contrasting results of these scientific studies and see firsthand what effect a plant-based approach had on him.

And it is true. More and more studies are coming out. Visit sciencedaily.com and see the dozens conducted on an endless variety of conditions and phenomena published every day. But the results of these studies - even the randomized, controlled, double-blinded type, said to be the gold standard of science - are less and less reliable.

Take reproducibility. If an experiment is reproducible, its results can be duplicated, either by the same researcher or by another group of scientists. Reproducibility is a hallmark feature of the scientific method. In other words, if a scientific experiment is not reproducible, if it yields different results each time it is performed, then it is pretty much worthless as far as proving or disproving anything goes.

Just how reproducible are the experiments getting performed these days? One former head of research at a major pharmaceutical company recently admitted that the company’s scientists were unable to replicate the results of 47 out of 53 papers that were instrumental in the launch of drug-discovery programs. In other words, of the over 50 experiments under review, only about 10% were reproducible. The other 90% a sheer waste of resources. Worse. Many products and foods are pushed on the public and backed by research from unreliable studies such as these.

It makes you wonder who you can believe. Why the deception? Greed, power, wealth are the usual culprits. Groups have vested interests. Companies want to make money, scientists want to get published. And the expense comes at your own health. You consume products that are of no benefit or are detrimental and pay a hefty dollar amount to boot.

So until the world becomes an honest one, trust your common sense, live simply, eat close to the source. Oh, and avoid arguments. Remember that any stance you take on any subject has a contradiction which in a confused and combative world can be just as vehemently championed, so the exercise is futile. Besides, arguing is bad for your health. And we don't need science to prove that.

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