Let me preface this entry by stating that I believe the scientific method to be one of the best ways to understand the universe. That said, people often have a very naive, almost religious faith in science. Just because something sounds science-y does not mean it is true. Do not ever be intimidated by people who attempt to convince you with something other than facts. It does not matter how prestigious their credentials are; people are fallible. On the other hand, don’t listen to scaremongers, either, as they make a living by stirring up controversy and selling snake oil.
Sometimes we know we don’t know the answer to something.
Sometimes, it’s even worse: we don’t know that we don’t know!
When it comes to human health, we know a lot more than our ancestors–at least we wash our hands and bathe more often, knowing that microscopic organisms can spread diseases.
But we still have a lot to learn. Science is messy and full of incentives to exaggerate in order to gain more prestige or a tenure-track position or a promotion. Example: This article about chocolate where the researcher deliberately set up a flawed study in the hopes of producing a false positive that “proved” that eating chocolate helps lose weight. (It doesn’t. But don’t let that stop you from relishing the occasional bite of chocolate.) Social Science studies are possibly even less likely to be true. Here is a widget to play with to see how different choices of variables influence the results of a study.
Also, humans are great at finding patterns in randomness/noise, so ideally you would want to see a study repeated or confirmed in some way before taking it as fact rather than the false positive that it may be.
Due to the above reasons, I read science articles with a skeptical eye; it can take a very long time before scientists understand the nuances of a substance. For example, there is a saying among toxicologists that the “dose makes the poison,” meaning small amounts of a chemical may be neutral or even positive for your health, even if larger amounts injure your health. Copper is necessary for life; you will get sick or even die if you don’t get enough copper in your diet. Yet overdosing on copper can kill you. Similarly, water is necessary for life; you will die without enough water intake. But you can overdose and die on water if you drink too much of it in too short a timespan.1
Since there’s so much junk science out there (think studies about how cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer paid for by tobacco companies), I rely on citations to government research labs, top research institutes (e.g., the Mayo Clinic), top journals (e.g., Nature), and studies done by major research universities. And I take things slowly; I don’t want to clog up this site with “news” of dubious value. So I won’t post about science stuff unless I think it’s truly interesting and not junk science. Relax, and enjoy the leisurely pace of the Science section of this site!