Understanding Scientific Literature

Understanding Scientific Literature

Posted by Empirical Labs on Sep 17th 2015

Today’s news is not information, it is not even data. The news today is focused on grabbing your attention rather than informing the public.

For instance, “Omega 3 supplements shown to increase cancer risk” was a hot topic for about a week until reasonable minds intervened. A study correlated that men who ingested omega 3 supplements had a higher risk of a specific type of cancer.

Data Marginal, Study Too Small

understanding-scientific-literatureThe data is marginal at best, as the difference between the Omega 3 group and the control group was insignificant, not to mention that the study was too small to come to any conclusion at all.

In fact this, study was designed for an entirely different topic all together, but it was unsuccessful. They took the data they had and attempted to draw some kind of conclusion.

Furthermore, this study did not pass the main reasonability test. For instance, Japan has 50% higher consumption of omega 3s, yet they have a lower rate of this type of cancer than the US (a good observation as each population is in the millions) and Japan has one of the highest rates of people living over the age of 100 (second only to Barbados).

Correlation vs. Causation

The other thing that these headlines almost never differentiate is between Correlation vs. Causation.

Correlation: People who eat 50% more omega 3s more often live past the age of 100.
– Perhaps people who eat more omega 3s prefer fish and stay away from red meat, which makes them healthier; omega 3s had nothing to do with it but are still a good indicator of healthy behavior.

Causation: Eating 50% more omega 3s will make you live longer.
– A study illustrating how a mechanism showing that increased omega 3 consumption reduced whole body inflammation. Lower inflammation allowed for better controlled metabolism and hormone levels. This mechanism kept people healthy into their 100th year.

News Is Not Information

Understanding, first and foremost, that news is not information is critical.

News has become attention grabbing “entertainment” to pull in advertising revenues for media outlets; news no longer informs us of events. Anything that one takes from the news, or the internet for that matter, must be tempered by a critical evaluation of what is presented and verified from a primary information source (don’t be fooled by “scientific” papers that are simply paid advertising in a “journal” that is not peer reviewed… but that is another subject).