Lesson 3: Scientific Research and Publishing

Fact: facts change as our surroundings change. (The Half-Life of Facts by Samuel Arbesman)
1. Language of science has gone from Latin to German to English.
2. In 100 years, the planet has gone from 2 billion to now 7 billion.
3. In less than 50 years we have gone from earthbound to walking on the moon.

Urban legend – Popeye ate spinach for the high iron content. FALSE. The cartoons never mention Iron, but once mentions the importance of spinach for the vitamin A. “Spinach, Iron, and Popeye: Ironic lessons from biochemistry and history on the importance of healthy eating, healthy skepticism and adequate citation.” — Dr. Mike Sutton

As for Iron, a German chemist calculated iron content at 3.5 mg in a 100 gram serving. In reporting, a decimal went missing and it became 35 mg of Iron. Oops! What spinach is actually high in is vitamin A at 70%, though technically vitamin A is created by the body by converting a large amount of beta carotene (its color masked by chlorophyll) when spinach is processed by the body.

“Communal reinforcement is the process by which a claim becomes a strong belief, through repeated assertion by members of a community. The process is independent of whether the claim has been properly researched, or is supported by empirical data significant enough to warrant belief by reasonable people.” – Dr. Ben Goldacre. In other words, things get repeated over and over and spread even though they may not be completely true. Good ol’ gossip!

How do we get our information? Beware of “I heard that…” Sources of information include, in order of usefulness: TV, Radio, Internet, Texting, Magazines, Newspapers, Magazines, Lectures, Journals.

“Where do the “facts” in our texts come from?” The Nature of Scientific Research:
1. Simultaneous discovery happens
2. Credit/patent issues –
3. Ego issues – who was first?

Simultaneous discoveries happen but don’t always get equal credit. Two examples:

1) We all know about the Wright brothers and their manned flights in 1903. Samuel Langley was also an early pioneer in flight, with steam but no one aboard; Otto Lillienthal, in Germany with gliders; and Whitehead, who was undocumented except for eyewitness reports.

2) The discovery of the structure of DNA – more than just Watson and Crick were involved. Frederick Miescher, late 1800’s, pulled it out of pus wounds but due to some higher-ups, it was considered unimportant. Oswald Avery, 1944, expanded upon Miescher with noting the replicating capacity. His paper triggered further interest in the structure of DNA. Linus Pauling (quite a scientific giant in chemistry) published a paper but came out incorrect. Watson and Crick (young scientific nobodies) came along and got the structure right and beat Pauling to the punch. Rosalind Franklin’s contribution with x-ray crystallographic data showed Watson and Crick’s idea of the helical structure to be correct but did not receive credit until much later, and she could not be included on the Nobel Prize as she died at age 37 before it was awarded.

Scientific Peer-Reviewed Journals and the beginning Peer Review process details – Researcher submits a paper to a journal. Editor reads and sends it to two or three referees to judge the paper for appropriate credit given, typographical errors, facts leading to the correct conclusion, etc. and sends comments to the editor who passes on any suggestions back to the researcher, who rebuts or corrects the paper. After a few back and forth volleys, the editor will decided ultimately the good or bad fate of the paper. If rejected, the researcher may try another journal next until successful. (Mr. Genius knows all about this process and it will forever be a part of his career.)

Personal notes: Once the paper is published it is open for full peer review from fellow researchers who will try and replicate its findings, thereby proving or disproving the original paper. 1.8-1.9 million articles were published in 2012. i.e. a crap ton is published. Not all journals are created equal. There are good journals and bad journals. To determine the quality of a Journal, it is given an impact factor. Those with higher impact factors are deemed better than those with lower. These factors can be found online when wondering if an article you’ve found comes from a quality source.

The vast majority of scientific papers that are published are honest efforts to report the facts. “There is no sin in science more grievous than falsifying data. There is no accusation that can be made that is more serious than to be guilty of a sin.” Sadly, fraud makes the front page of the media when retractions are made. Retractions are not an everyday occurrence though two come easily to my own mind – Wakefield and Autism, and Seralini and GMO fed rats – but don’t get me started on those two doofuses!

Scientific papers in the area of food science – the media has a tendency of complicating, over-hyping, or misrepresenting situations when it comes to reporting research. (Frankly I’ve seen this too much and tend to be skeptical now of what I read and search after the actual paper or scientists who have begun blogging so as to help stop the spread of misinformation. One of my favorites (I have quite a few) to follow is the Science-Based Medicine blog (www.sciencebasedmedicine.org) which is made up of several contributing authors in their respective medical fields. Not everything they blog about, though, I completely will agree with but they’re still very knowledgeable at what they do.)

Dr. Ariel Fenster on research studies–

A) Observational (Epidemiological) Studies: Studies where the assignment of subjects is not controlled by the investigator.
1) Case control studies: Compare people with a specific condition (case) to   other people who are otherwise similar except for that condition (control). Retrospective (recall information from the past). (ex. 1950 study associating smoking with lung cancer.)
2) Cohort Study: Study of a group of people over a long period of time to determine which factors may be associated with the appearance of a specific condition. Prospective (follow and take notes from the start). (ex. EPIC (European Perspective Investigation into Cancer) Study – Involving 520,000 people in 10 European countries suggests that increased intake of fruits and vegetables has a minimal effect on overall cancer rates. Other studies, however, strongly show diets rich in fruits and vegetables have benefits in terms of heart disease.)

Correlation vs Causation: correlation means there is an association/link but does not prove causation. (Big example of correlation but NOT causation – Autism and vaccines. But that link just won’t DIEEEEEEE!)

B) Interventional Study: assignment of subjects is controlled by the investigator. Can be double blind, randomized, placebo controlled studies. (I participated in one once!)

Daniel 11-15, first interventional study! Daniel asked for the king to feed his servants nothing but vegetables and water and compare the servants to the young men eating royal food after several days.

Vitamin D and calcium supplementation with a randomized clinical trial (rct), double blinded with placebo (the gold standard of experiments) showed a 60% reduction in cancer incidents. The placebo response is a very real and important response. Double blind prevents the researcher from having any influence on one group over another.

C) Meta analysis: study of all published studies pooled together. (ex. Vitamin D meta analysis also showed a protective relationship between vitamin D and a lower risk of cancer (colon, breast, prostate, ovarian).

Overall: It’s important where we get our information. The internet is a vast sea of information and yet much is not even drinkable. I, personally, prefer mine to be science-based, evidence-based, and peer-reviewed when I can get it that way.