Dealing With Experimental Bias










One of my readers recently brought up a very important issue in both medicine and science, and that's the prevalence of bias in studies and experiments.  It is very important that we do our best to use our brains in interpreting all scientific data, and especially do our best to not allow our own biases to color our judgments.

One of the biggest problems that we face here is the fact that a lot of the research that goes on, at least the research that you hear the most about, and the research that is published in the more prestigious journals, tends to be funded by the health care industry, or those who have an economic interest in the outcome of the science.

Now this doesn't necessarily mean that the results will be portrayed in a way that the sponsors will approve of, but we do need to recognize that this certainly can influence things.  In theory anyway, scientific research is supposed to be about a quest for knowledge, any knowledge that may be helpful and worthwhile, but in practice this rarely happens.

What tends to happen instead is that experimenters start from a conclusion they want to arrive at and then design their experiments around that.  As it turns out, there is a fair bit of latitude that can be used to design the experiment so that certain outcomes can be more or less likely, and we see this on both sides actually.

The examples we could look at are countless, but let's just look at one to illustrate, which is a fairly popular and well known one, the notion that dietary fat causes heart disease.  The science that has been put forth on this, once you strip off the bias, is notoriously bad, and those who still hold this view should be roundly embarrassed as this all is based upon pure stupidity.

However, if you ask most people, and just about all medical doctors, they will attest to this all being proven fact, beyond any doubt, even though the evidence supporting this falls on its face.  These days, that's being pointed out quite clearly more and more, although few are willing to give up their old ideas here.

Now you might say, well who benefits from this?  By placing the focus on things such as LDL levels, billions of dollars can now be made, and as it turns out, ironically, a low fat and higher carb diet is the worst thing you can eat for cardiovascular health, because it's more inflammatory, and inflammation is what drives heart disease, so that's a real bonus if you're looking to make money on sickness.

Another clear myth is the idea that a low salt diet improves cardiovascular outcomes.  This is one that less people know about, but there isn't even any good evidence that reducing salt intake even helps blood pressure in any meaningful way with the vast majority of patients, and no one seems to care that the hormonal disturbances that result from the sodium deficiency that results causes very significant increases in mortality.

When we look at the mainstream views on pretty much everything health related, we find that following these recommendations lead to more sickness, not less.  This even extends to the idea that we need to use things like antibacterial soap and avoid bacteria in general, as this tends to suppress immunity, not protect us, without even considering the potential negative effects of the antibacterial agents themselves.

There are several problems that arise when looking to seek out evidence to support a certain view, but the biggest one is one of not considering all the factors.  The low salt view is a good example of this, they are looking at blood pressure and seeing a very minor decrease, and then assuming that it's all about blood pressure, and not considering other factors such as what happens when you do this and you elevate aldosterone and renin to unhealthy levels, and then compare the meaningless benefits of a few points off your blood pressure with the much more dangerous hormonal changes that sodium deficiency produces.

So someone decided to actually measure outcomes, mortality in this case, and find out that you're much more likely to die of a heart attack on a low salt diet than on a high salt one, although this doesn't seem to matter to a great many.

As it turns out, electrolyte deficiencies are very rampant in our society, and while hardly anyone pays attention to potassium and magnesium deficiency, which the majority of the population suffer from, hardly anyone at all looks at sodium deficiency, which has been made far worse in the last few decades with all the salt paranoia that has emerged.

Electrolyte levels cannot be properly measured in the blood, as it's cellular levels that matter, so this is used as a tool to further the propaganda, your serum levels of sodium or magnesium or potassium are fine so you can't be deficient.  Since these levels are measured against the norm, if the norm is deficiency, deficiency will show up as normal.  By the time these deficiencies show up on a normal blood test though, the deficiency is very severe.

Electrolyte deficiency is, by the way, behind a lot of ill health, but if we focused more on that, a hell of a lot less money would be made.  So we just turn a blind eye and look at other things such as what may reduce symptoms when we do get afflicted with a secondary morbidity from this stuff, and even that is skewed the wrong way, as reducing symptoms is not treatment.

So they may give you statins for instance to improve your blood lipids, in cases where elevated lipids are by no means the problem, they are simply evidence of a deeper problem, and the body's means of adapting to it, a natural treatment of sorts.  So let's get rid of that, and hope that fixes things.  Sadly, it generally only makes things worse, and then we will only say, well we did what we could.

Another big mistake is failing to account for alternatives, including doing nothing.  So with diabetes, they will compare different pharmaceutical treatments to try to decide which may be best, and all of them lead to a progression of the condition, but no matter, that's all that's looked at.

So more natural means including a diet actually tailored to diabetes management and not just the bogus fat and salt scare for instance doesn't get talked about much, even though you would think that this would be the primary means of managing the disease.  It's not the most profitable one though, and that is what it is all about, even though practitioners tend to be too dull to see that for the most part.

The point of this article is to make clear that if we rely on so called experts to make these interpretations of the science out there on something for us, and not use our own heads, not dare to think for ourselves, then we are surely allowing ourselves to be led down the garden path, and in the end only have ourselves to blame.

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