I saw this interesting segment the other day and felt it was worth sharing to you.
It’s from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on HBO. (Warning: some people will likely find this offensive.)
As you can imagine, writing various books and articles, investigating herbs and health I read a fair amount of scientific articles.
And the more I do, the more flaws I see in science.
Yes, there is lower quality research and then better, but that’s only one problem.
This video mostly speaks to a few big issues.
First of all, a single study will become generalized and then sensationalized in our media.
Just the other day I passed by a TV news show somewhere and saw the headline “Gluten free diets found only to be beneficial to those with Celiac disease.”
Yeah, tell that to the thousands of people who have found it helpful and healthful to cut out or limit gluten.
The problem is that people then take this sort of message like gospel.
The second problem here has to do with the repeat-ability of studies, or rather the lack of it.
Studies cost money, often times lots of it. Funding seldom comes for the purpose of repeating something that was previously found.
Plus even in science people like NEW!
Then we see the issue with the search for statistically significant correlations. With random data this can be gathered through what is called “p-hacking”.
The other issue here is just because something works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Few people realize that science doesn’t prove things. It makes hypotheses and builds evidence for or against something, but it doesn’t actually prove anything.
But people tend to act as if it’s an all or nothing game.
For instance, Ashwagandha is “proven” to help in lower cortisol and the symptoms of stress. Multiple studies have found this, so in this case it is repeated.
In A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults, there was shown an overall 27.9% decrease in cortisol compared to 7.9% in the placebo group.
With the 64 subjects in this study this result was statistically significant. But what is not covered is individual results. 27.9% is an average. There are likely people that had double that result, while there are likely some people that became more stressed while on Ashwagandha.
John Oliver chastises one of the newsmen for saying “I think the way to live your life is to find the study that sounds best to you, and you go with that.” Well, since the placebo effect is so powerful that might just be a useful idea.
It might not sound scientific, but the placebo is the most scientifically studied thing there is! It’s not ashwagandha, but placebo did lower those people’s stress too.
Science is great. But we need to be careful placing it on a higher pedestal than it belongs.
After all when it comes to herbs, some herbs have more science behind them than others.
With pine pollen there are NO human studies. There’s barely even rat studies!
The problem with that is there are some people who believe if there is no science, it means it doesn’t work.
But because of the complexity and cost of good, repeatable scientific studies, we need to understand this is a big lagging indicator of anything’s effects.
We plan to continue to showcase science because that is what many people and the government wants us to show. In an ideal world everything would be “scientifically proven.”
But we are not in an ideal world. So with these flaws, look at science but do so within the frame of a bigger picture. That’s what we strive to do.
- Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(3), 255.