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Prove it

Thursday, June 06, 2013

A pet peeve of mine is people who passionately advocate for a concept that they fond on the internet.

Yep. I'm that girl.

I'm the girl who while skimming through facebook posts, pauses to check www.snopes.com to test the validity of "uses for Coke" or "aspertame causes cancer". And then I post the relevant link as a comment (or reply all in the situation of forwarded emails), explaining that -- no -- I don't think you're an idiot: you just can't believe everything you read.

The internet is a wondrous place! You can find sources to support almost every argument. Dolphins secretly run the world, George Bush and Queen Elizabeth are reptilian aliens ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Da
), and more. My problem lies with when folks take everything written as Gospel.

If tomorrow I announced on my page that broccoli was deadly, that it causes a mutation in the DNA leading to obesity, which is why people trying to get healthy seem to gain more weight, 90% of you would ask for my sources (that speaks well of my sparkfriends, unfortunately, that's not the % of the rest of the world). 5% might sit down and stop eating broccoli (just in case), and 5% might decide to share with the world.

If you're going to make a big claim against something: please prove it.

This weekend I was working at Ottawa Doors Open, and the tour guide on the very last tour was accosted by a lady mid-tour about the fact that we fluoridate our water. Her lead-in was a discussion of how fluoridation was initiated by the Nazis, and how fluoride makes people stupid. She didn't want to be appeased by science, she didn't want to hear that it was her choice to filter fluoride out of her water, or that the municipal government's health department makes the decision to fluoridate the water for the same reasons (to prevent tooth decay in children) that the federal government imposed Vitamin D supplementation on dairy products (to prevent rickets in children); no, she wanted me to agree with her.

To her, and to all conspiracy theorists, I say: prove it.

Provide me with a peer-reviewed, scientifically conducted study (preferably multiple) which proves that aspartame causes cancer, that fluoride lowers IQ. Prove it and I'll be happy to talk to you.

Yes, there are companies that make money by making their consumers sick *cough* cigarettes *cough*. Yes, there are products on the market with FDA approvals that will be pulled due to safety concerns. Institutions are made up of people, and people are fallible. They can be corrupted, or they can be mistaken.

But even if funded by the company that makes and sells the product, it's hard to refute 172 peer-reviewed studies proving the safety of Splenda when you don't have a single study of your own.

Why do I keep bringing up peer-reviewed? What does that mean? It means the study has been conducted in a manner wherein all steps are carefully recorded including potential biases (notice how I keep pointing out that the Splenda studies were funded by the makers thereof?). Then the study has been published in a scientific journal (this not always, but generally means that it has been cross-examined by the editors of that journal, most of whom are also scientists) and then is reviewed by other scientists for its validity. Even this process isn't foolproof: just look at the story of Andrew Wakefield (who is banned from practising medicine in the UK because of his fraudulent study published in the Lancet in 1998 www.sciencebasedmedicine

When you hear people making improbable claims -- or even claims that could make sense -- please check their sources. Educate yourself. I'm not asking you to buy every story the government feeds you: question those too! I'm not suggesting that every drug on the market is a good or even effective one (I avoid them as best I can). All I'm asking is that you go out and understand who is making these claims, why, and how they arrived at their conclusions.

Sir Isaac Newton was struck with an idea (and an apple), but instead of immediately running out and proclaiming the laws of gravity, he ran inside and began experimenting to find out -- to the extent of his ability -- what the idea meant.

The human imagination is both one of the most powerful forces for good as well as a cause of great despair. Go out and test your theories. See if they hold water. If they don't, discard them for greater theories. There is not wrong answer in science. In science, a hypothesis is only that until it is proven through the scientific method. Until then, it is merely a suggestion. Suggest away, but don't claim it's true.

My parents raised me to question everything: and I do.

Please do too.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • EABL81
    Sounds as though your lady visitor drank too much fluorodated water!


    Unfortunately, the press often suffers from the same problem, by jumping on the bandwagon and reporting the results of a single scientific finding as if it is now the "accepted truth" without giving details on how it was done (sample size, length of study, actual experimental results or based on correlative data). Then, when the next study comes out, refuting the first one, they jump on that bandwagon as well. No wonder people get confused and don't know who to believe (and it's almost never the scientists).

    Good post!
    2083 days ago
  • KONRAD695
    Every person that I've every met who were born before July 9th, 1903 that ate broccoli or drank fluorinated water has either died or will die soon!!!

    I get what you mean. Age has taught me to just close my mouth and walk away. It ticks me off way too much to have any kind of dialogue with this mentality. Sometimes, you just can't fix ******.
    2084 days ago
    "All I'm asking is that you go out and understand who is making these claims, why, and how they arrived at their conclusions." -- this is great insight. I also share the belief that everything should be questioned.

    Keep being awesome! :)
    2085 days ago
    More than several times in my life, I have been called a "devils advocate" or been chastised for "trying to poke holes" in things. But I can't, I just CAN'T accept everything at face value. You don't know! We can't know everything, our brains are incapable!

    We just have to let the crazies do their thing, some people can't be told. You're really wise to say "prove it" and move on. Not worth your breath or limited time on this Earth! It can be really frustrating sometimes, right?!

    And this is also why I hate elections, it tends to bring alot of this type of stuff out. Rage.

    But this definitely applies to Spark-related stuff as well. There is a constant flow of "Eat this! Don't eat that! Do this! Don't do that!" and I majorly avoid anything like that because it seems like a fad and most of it has no backup studies that I'd trust. I can't STAND "Well, this girl online lost 50 lbs. doing this, why don't I/We/You try it?" How about no.

    I hear ya on this, can you tell?! I am all fired up now! STAND FOR PROOF!

    2086 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/6/2013 1:14:11 PM
  • ASTRA58
    Hear! Hear! I, too, question everything and research the source of the argument.

    And Theory in science does not mean the same as a guess, which is what the word is used as in colloquial English. In science, a Theory is what comes after the hypothesis is proven. A Theory is the explanation for the facts that were shown.
    2086 days ago
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