From sugar makes you fat to vaccination beliefs

Well, does sugar really make you fat? This is perhaps too generic of an argument. A much better argument is that eating too many calories for the amount of exercise or movement you do. Sugar on my cereal each day might make me fat but might have no effect on my children.

Could I convince you that sugar is bad if I had a study? Would the author of the study matter? How about where the funding came from – a sugar company or a non-governmental organization on general nutrition?

I feel that “to vaccinate” vs “not to vaccinate” falls into a he said she said type of argument. It is very complex dealing with preservatives and stabilizers and has a lot of finger pointing.

Vaccines as well as foods also contain some substances for preservation. These preservatives help both foods and medicines to have a shelf life of more than a few days. This is one of those things that have helped us move from a society of hunters and gatherers living from day to day to a society that does not need to produce and use these items immediately.

Some of these preservatives, well for foods anyway, are reasonably familiar.

  • Salt
  • Nitrates
  • Sulfates
  • Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Benzoate and Benzene (ok, not so familiar)

A lot of Anti-vaxxers are concerned when they see things like Thimerosal which is a type of mercury as a preservative in vaccines. I get it, mercury is bad for you.

Con argument

Mercury? It is know to be harmful for the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract … need I go on?

Pro argument

Well, you wouldn’t want micro organisms living and growing in the medical juice we will be putting into your arm. It would undermine the entire reason for doing so.

Its complicated

The issue is actually more nuanced that this but what does tend to be the case is that you see very educated people on both sides of the argument. This should not be too surprising. In many different situations there are people on both sides of an argument.

The good or bad news is that both sides bring their own studies into the argument and this is where things can get a bit problematic. If there is a supporting study that suggests having a certain medicine has a terrible side effect then is the argument finished? Did one side win?

Maybe. Having a study is good news as it shows why we should change our behavior but only if it was a good study. A good study should contain a lot of of the folllowing attributes.

  • Uses statistically large enough sample size
  • Clearly states the variables or constructs to be examined
  • Performed in a systematic way
  • It is based on some logical rationale and tied to theory
  • Provide data and methods
  • It can be replicated

Based on a lot of information I have seen about aluminium, sugar, transfats, … it is not usually possible to know if any of these or all of these attributes are being used. In many of cases, the studies seem to be done by the the group who wants to prove the result.

How to decide?

Well, the most important attribute from that list is “can it be replicated”. This is usually clarified by the term “peer reviewed” or replicated by an group of independent researchers.

Anyone can have an opinion and the opinions of a doctor, lawyer, or television star is no more important than your opinion. An opinion supported by studies and research is good but an opinion supported by independent studies and proven by others in the field is much much better.

If something cannot be “scientifically proven”, then perhaps this is less a scientific argument and more an argument of faith. Nothing wrong with that, but lets keep in perspective.

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