I came across a book review on a blog I enjoy (Science Based Medicine) and I’m buying the book… it looks really interesting.
He says he feasts on science, but it can be hard to know which table to sit at, since the Internet and the media serve up a steady stream of dishes filled with toxic misinformation, and “Any twit can twitter.” He points out that anecdotal evidence is unreliable: it must be confirmed or disconfirmed by controlled trials. There are too many reports in the media claiming a scientific study has found “evidence” when all it really found was “possibility.”
He says responsible science reporting faces many challenges:
- The public wants simple solutions to complex problems.
- Scientists are not trusted but are perceived to be in the pockets of industry.
- Many scientists are not good communicators.
- Terms such as “alternative facts” have entered the public lexicon; there are no such things.
Today people are “more” informed about science but not “better” informed. Most people don’t understand the difference between “hazard” (the propensity to cause harm) and “risk” (the potential that it actually does harm, taking into consideration the type and extent of exposure and personal liabilities).
Claims are often wildly extrapolated from preliminary lab or animal studies. “A seed of truth is nurtured into a jungle of twaddle.” Cilantro apparently chelates heavy metals, but that doesn’t mean it is effective for detoxification in humans. Schwarcz says, “As usual, there is a kernel of truth to the claim, but that kernel is inflated with nonsense until it pops.” In general, the more claims for a product, the less likely any of them are true.
A Feast of Science is available on Amazon. (and just a note: if you follow links on my blog to buy, it costs you nothing extra, but I get a tiny amount that adds up to help support my blog habit. So thank you!)