Most of the most popular "science" is wrong.

Most science is wrong. Most science is misleading. Most science that is interpreted as “fact” turns out to be fiction years later. 

At least, that’s what a 2005 statistical study suggests. Stanford School of Medicine’s John Ioannidis came to the conclusion that from a probabilistic perspective, most of the research quoted today is likely incorrect. 

According to the statistical reasoning of Ioannidis, there were six corollaries that could affect how reliable the research was when published:

  1. The smaller the studies conducted in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true
  2. The smaller the effect sizes in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true 
  3. The greater the number and the lesser the selection of tested relationships in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true. 
  4. The greater the flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true. 
  5. The greater the financial and other interests and prejudices in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true
  6. The hotter a scientific field (with more scientific teams involved), the less likely the research findings are to be true. [1]

Some of these corollaries jump out more than others. 

Point number 6 is where a lay person should begin questioning any “scientific” understanding they have about diet, drugs, and decision-making. 

“Hotter” scientific fields are the fields that are most frequently cited for their exciting findings. The more a paper is cited, the more likely it will be discussed in the chains of media with which you are most familiar. 

If you wanted another impetus to question any and all scientific “facts” thrown around colloquially, consider this:

  1. Studies that cannot be replicated are cited more frequently than replicable studies. 
  2. Even after publication of failed replication, there are no significant changes in citation trends for the original paper. In other words, even though it can’t be replicated, it is still cited. 
  3. After failed replication, the majority of publications do not acknowledge the new findings of their widely cited paper. Instead, incorrect articles are kept in circulation. [2]

Given the speed at which exciting papers spread through social media, these findings are particularly concerning. 

When researchers say they understand systems that have evolved over billions of years, consider the commonsensical probability of their perspective.

It’s important to advocate for scientific exploration. It’s also important to reconcile the fragility of our belief that we could ever comprehend the totality of the universe and its inhabitants. 

As a consumer, take more ownership in the reality that nobody has the answers that determine the best direction for you as an individual. It’s important to trust your gut, because your gut evolved a lot longer than we’ve had access to microarrays and pipettes.

Taking a look at our ancestral beginnings can help determine how we ought to care for our bodies and ‘spaceship’ Earth. If a brand says, “This new lab-synthesized polyunsaturated fat is better for your heart and brain!!!”, imagine the likelihood that our evolutionarily hardwired energy systems believe them. From my perspective, it’s not likely. We evolved eating animal-based and foraged fats, many of which are saturated (and at all costs not trans-). 

There’s no certainty about the best way to eat or live. As a start, master the basics by moving your body every day, challenging your mind with acute stressors, eating real local food, and sleeping when you should be sleeping. 

Trust in evolution and adapt when intuition guides you. 

References:

  1. Ioannidis, John. Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. PLOS Medicine. 30 August 2005. 
  2. Garcia et al. Nonreplicable publications are cited more than replicable ones. Science Advances. (7) 21. 21 May 2021.