h.D., M.D, MS, BS. What do all of these acronyms have in common? They all represent qualifications stating that an individual has mastered, in various levels of degree, some topic. In other words, people should respect their opinions on that given topic. Psychology actually has a name for this, appeal to authority.
So person A has a Ph.D. in economics and makes a statement regarding the unemployment rate; therefore, whatever they said must be true. Not so fast.
In searching for the truth in nutrition, we must access scientific studies to look at certain claims. This is incredibly helpful because we consume dozens of different foods daily, and it’s nearly impossible to single out one and to see possible health benefits or risks.
Most nutrition studies fall under two categories – observational studies or randomized controlled trails (RCT’s.) An observational study is just what it sounds like; scientists observe the eating habits of a given population and then gather data. RCT’s are more controlled; scientists will typically study two groups, attempting to minimalize the differences between them other than a single given topic. Observational research is mostly hypothesis generating for RCT’s, which are considered the gold standard.
With this in mind, it’s important to respect the science. If 100 studies come out and say that a certain food additive is safe for consumption, but one nutritionist says its carcinogenic, yet has no evidence to back it up, well, decide for yourself. These people are often emphatic about their statements as well, claiming to know everything about anything and completely shut down to other possibilities.
I always appeal to science, not to a given individual. What is true and false isn’t dependent on who has sold the most books.
But research isn’t without its flaws. A quick search in PubMed and you’ll find many studies are funded by a potentially biased source. Of course those studies come out with favorable effects. Oh really, the athlete sponsored by Cliff said that Cliff bars are the secret to his 400-pound bench press? Shocker. Who wants to put thousands of dollars into a study to say something doesn’t work the way they thought it did?
Many researchers also tend to overreach their data. Again, who wants to spend several months working to conclude that their experiment told them nothing? When looking at research or hearing the opinion of a qualified individual you should determine if they serve to gain a monetary advantage for what they’re saying. It’s typically smart to look at the bulk of the research and hear many different opinions.
It was Socrates who said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Odds are, if you run into someone who claims to know everything about a certain topic, making outrageous claims that clearly aren’t backed by science, it would be wise to find another source, despite their framed credentials.