Archive for the ‘science’ Category

I find it more and more difficult to find Ricola with sugar. I don’t like artificial sweeteners. In addition, there is research that they don’t help lose weight, and they don’t satisfy food cravings, and only teach us to like sweet food*. And frankly? I don’t see what’s so bad about sugar. Granted it’s bad for the teeth, but calories? The bulk don’t necessarily come from sugar.

For example: 18 gr of white sugar has 70 calories (from google).

An 18 gr mini mars bar has 99 calories > 18 gr of sugar (written on the pack of mini mars bars). So the other stuff they’re adding has more calories than sugar. I don’t know what it is, but I haven’t been able to eat a mars bar since I realized this. Or Twix, which used to be my favorite 😕 Sugar just gets all the blame.

So I prefer stuff with sugar, I just put less of it (and I use brown sugar, but that doesn’t affect the calories). I always put less sugar than the recipe states, I find it sweet enough. I never add sugar to breakfast cereals, they have more than enough. And I stay away from artificial sweeteners. This is getting difficult, especially with gluten-free foods, many of which are also sugar free. I don’t mind honey, dates and apple juice; just leave the sucralose, aspartame and acesulfame K out, please.

Now I just need to get everyone else to think the same, and I’ll be able to find my favorite Ricola bonbons 🙂

May you have a sweet weekend! Do you eat sugar or artificial sweeteners? Why?

*Take note that these are actual scientific papers, not screaming headlines in tabloids. Be careful what you read, and always check their references. Especially on the Net.

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I think that science is getting more and more of a bad name lately. You tell someone that it was proved in research and they’ll lift their eyebrows and state archly,”Sure, and in a few weeks it the opposite will be proved in research”.

Why is this?

Part of the problem is that the average layperson does not have access to scientific articles. Not only do many journals require a fee, the articles themselves are unreadable. I remember when I started my Master’s, I hated reading articles. I didn’t understand a word. It took me a few years to get to the point where I can read an article and get the point (usually) within 15 minutes. Articles usually assume you have some background. So articles are usually peppered with things like: “it is known that mitochondrial breakdown can be caused by…”, “As noted by Fienup[12] on phase retrieval”, ” As Wakefield et al [43] have noted…” And you’re wondering what is mitochondrial breakdown and how in the world is it connected to autism? What is phase retrieval, and what is it doing in an article on 3D imaging? Who is Wakefield and what did they note – in words of one syllable?

You can attempt to calm down and try to track down the references (12, and 43 above) but they usually aren’t clearer. You can try to read an article with an encyclopaedia open, but that doesn’t always help. For example, from Wikipedia: “phase retrieval consists in finding the phase that for a measured amplitude satisfies a set of constraints”. Yes, and that is connected to 3D imaging how exactly? Also, it really matters which journal published said article. There are tabloids of the scientific world too, that publish the scientific version of “Women gives birth to alien baby”. So the average person just counts on the media to let him know if there is anything he should be aware of.

Which brings us to the second problem: The media isn’t in business to supply information. The media is in business to sell. So you get screaming headlines like “Doing ultrasound? You may be damaging your baby!” which is guaranteed to send scores of pregnant women pale faced to their doctor – and sell tons of newspapers (or clicks). And only if you bother to actually read the paper, you find that the tests were on mice, and that the extreme test was 35 minutes of ultrasound every four hours, repeated twelve times, and even the “middle” group was 15 minutes every 12 hours. What human undergoes this? Why is this even relevant to the ultrasound regimen recommended by gynecologists? Why are you scaring countless women?

A third problem is misunderstanding statistics in general. If Wakefield performed a check (not even a test) on 12 children and found that 8 had autism after receiving the MMR vaccine, it means nothing. 12 children is statistically insignificant.

A fourth unfortunate problem is conflict of interest. Scientists are not always honest. Wakefield admitted that he was paid by the parents of the autistic children to write this article. He admitted it only after the article was in print. Thousands of people ignored his admission and the anti vaccine movement is strong ever since.

A fifth and most serious problem is the actual scientific method when researching humans. The fact is, that mice are not men, and will never be. On the other hand, you can’t perform experiments on large bunches of humans. For example, the obvious solution to the vaccine-autism question would be: take one million children, don’t vaccinate them. Take another one million children and vaccinate them. See the number of autistic children after three years. However, that would mean a large number of unvaccinated children. Polio, mumps, whooping cough would abound and children would die or be paralysed for life. Not going to happen.

And even if this was attempted – what if the vaccinated million lived closer to pollution centers and that is the cause of autism? What if the unvaccinated children also ate larger amounts of vitamin K and that prevented autism? How can you tell? Which brings us to the sixth problem – too many parameters. Especially with somthing like autism where people don’t really have any idea where to start, except “environmental factor that changed from the 80s on”. It could be vaccines. It could also be air pollution, sound pollution, TV time for parents or kids, computers, magnetic radiation, less exercise of parents, more processed food, stress in the parents, thousands of things.  You cannot expect someone to write everything they saw, ate, or breathed for the 9 months of pregnancy up to the child’s first year accurately and truthfully, and even if you did you would have so much information it would take ages to make sense of it all. And that brings us also to the seventh problem – information gathering.

There are no experiments done directly on humans (at least not for gathering information – only for testing cures, and that only at the approval of a lot of bureaucracy). Most experiments are done by calling a bunch of people and asking them quesitons, or even more flimsy methods*. You assume that everone asked is truthful and remembers accurately.

Yeah, right.

However, the actual scientific method is sound. You suggest a theory; you suggest a method to prove or disprove it;  you perform the experiment; you analyze the data. And each article is a small building stone that is important. But people need to stop believing that science has all the answers. In the end, as always, you’re down to making your own decisions. Science just gives you some more ideas on how.


*A method that astounded me, in an article that suggested TV causes autism: The hours of cable watching goes up as the weather gets worse. So the researchers checked the states with the worst weather and checked the number of autistic children in these states and found that in rainy states there are more autistic children. Very conclusive, isn’t it?

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