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Don't Be Afraid of Science!

posted Aug 7, 2010, 1:21 PM by Hildreth England   [ updated Oct 8, 2010, 12:52 PM ]
If you paid attention to your high school biology and chemistry teachers, you may remember a little thing called the "scientific method."  It's this long, drawn-out process that supports (or doesn't) a hypothesis on how something happens (or doesn't), and lets someone else replicate your experiment and get the same data. If your science fair project rigorously adhered to the scientific method, and said that dogs really do like peanut butter more than cats, someone else using the same methods should be able to make that conclusion, too.

There's not a lot of wiggle room with the scientific method - either an hypothesis is supported, or not.   It's an art form when done correctly, and the data is powerful.  It's how, as a society, we've generally come to accept scientific principles like gravity, the speed of light, our DNA, and why Mr. Roger's really is the best neighbor, ever.

Surprisingly over the past 20 years, we seem more prone to denying important scientific data. In fact, it seems the general public, for better or worse, has grown skeptical of what scientists discover over and over (and over) via experimental studies done using the scientific method...particularly in research done in food and nutrition.  Despite measurable, observed, unbiased data that's replicable and carefully obtained, lots of people seem to be okay with saying, "Nah...thanks but no thanks.  Don't believe it.  I'll just stick to what I know."

While there *are* all sorts of contextual factors that can affect human efforts to increase our knowledge (namely money and power), by and large the scientific method does an excellent job of weeding those variables out.  If it becomes apparent that the results of an experiment are tainted by intentional misconduct, they get thrown out!  The scientists loses face, the publishing journal loses money, and the shareholders/supporters of the experiment withdraw support.

So why are we still afraid of science?

I've always been a fan of TED talks...and this one is no exception:
Any 'tried and true' method deserves some healthy skepticism - that's what drives its progress.  But throwing out the methods altogether for no apparent reason is scary.  Throwing out the scientific method in favor of superstition and unfounded gut instincts is ever scarier - that's when we re-enter the dark ages.

When it comes to food and nutrition, the public deserves sound science.  Like I said, research funded by Nestle or Coca-Cola definitely deserves a raised eyebrow, but shouldn't be thrown out altogether....

Fuel forward and look ahead!