The Information Myth: Is More (Always) Better
Every day, like never before in history, we are overwhelmed withinformation and much of it is about diets, foods, nutrients, anddiseases, good and bad. Much of this news is confusing andconflicting. One-day coffee causes cancer, the next day coffee cures cancer.
Here are 4 points to consider that will help you to understand all thisinfo.
1) The Signal to Noise Ratio
According to IBM, 90 percent of the data in the world was createdwithin the last few years. So one problem is what we call the signal-to-noise ratio — the amount of meaningful information relative to theoverall amount of information is declining. We're not that much smarterthan we used to be, even though we have much more information —and that means the real skill now is learning how to pick out the usefulinformation from all this noise. This means people have to work harderto consume it: categorizing information, sorting facts from opinions, &putting everything in context. Unless we have the skills to do this andcan take the time to do it, we could actually be less knowledgeable.
2) The Chemical Soup
Recently, researchers identified 40 common food ingredients that hadarticles in the news reporting on their cancer risk. Of 264 single-studyassessments, 72% concluded that the tested food was associated withan increased or a decreased risk. However, 75% of the risk estimateswere very weak or had no statistical significance. When all the studieson an item were combined, their overall risk was very week and hadlittle to any significance.
In other words, the relative risk for most of the items we hear featuredin the news, when properly analyzed, was basically non-existent. Inlayman's terms, many single studies highlight implausibly large effects(which get reported in the media), even though the evidence is veryweak. When all the studies on an item are pooled together, the effectsizes shrinks to basically nothing (which does not get reported in themedia).
3) Failure to Replicate
One very key factor in science is that if I do a study and find a resultthat someone else can "replicate" it and get the same result. However,a number of empirical studies show that 80-90% of the claims we hearabout in the news fail to replicate.
4) How Science Really Works
Outside of the media hoopla on these topics through its various outlets,a real scientist and student of health should not be swayed by theresults of any one study - ever. The reason is true science is really aslow moving, unfolding of information that builds on what is known andadds to it little by little over time. It also looks for and acknowledges itsown flaws and weaknesses. It makes conclusions based onestablished and proven methods that deal with methodology, power,strength and levels of significance. It doesn't suddenly jump from oneplace to another every time a new study comes out. Eggs didn't gofrom bad to good this week and neither did coffee and no, butter is notback on the menu.
Science is not determined by popular vote, public opinion, religiousbeliefs, (individual experience) or marketing & advertising. Science isdetermined by careful and critical consideration of the evidence & thestrength of that evidence. Scientists are not polled for their opinionsand the ideas of the majority put forward as the scientific reality.