“March of Science”

A fascinating commentary (“The March of Science –The True Story”  L Rosenbaum NEJM 2017;377: 188-91) discuss issues regarding mistrust of science in this age of ‘alternative facts.”

Here are some key points:

  • “Nutrition science may be the area that provides the most ammunition for distrust, given the combination of uncertainty, public interest, and powerful preferences. Indeed, skepticism of most nutrition science is warranted, given the often insurmountable challenges of controlled, blinded experimentation…The confluence of these factors..often invoked to condemn the scientific process more generally: Why should I believe you people when you people are always changing your minds?”
  • “Remarkable gains in human longevity are just one manifestation of science’s success–but….’No one wants to hear about the plane that lands.'”
  • There has been a shift “in the tone of public discussions of science.” Instead of someone being “wrong,” they are now “corrupt” or “evil.”
  • Due to potential for condemnation, there is fear of “venturing into the fray” which “means that the public hears far more from science’s critics than its champions. This imbalance contributes to “science is broken” narratives ranging from claims about the pervasiveness of medical error to the insistence that benefits of our treatments are always overhyped.
  • Changing the narrative: “we have to learn to tell stories that emphasize that what makes science right is the enduring capacity to admit we are wrong. Such is the slow, imperfect march of science.”

My take: Widespread skepticism and confirmation bias have the potential to disrupt highly effective medical treatments by confusing them for those that are unproven.

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