Dear Doc: Frustrating research reports can be latest steps toward goals of wisdom and scientific truth
Dear Dr. K: It seems as if medical research often countermands itself. First we hear niacin improves lipid health, then that it doesn’t affect health outcomes. Medicine for osteoporosis is deemed good; then we learn it might make brittle bones. Is there any research we can believe?
I understand your concern and confusion and will try to provide practical answers.
First you have to realize we live in an informational society grounded in instant dissemination of ideas through a variety of media and the Internet. Keep in mind there is a difference between information, knowledge, and then, wisdom.
In a way each is a step in the process of true and accurate understanding. Often, simple data or information is misconstrued because of lack of applicable knowledge or true wisdom.
For instance it is known that lower lipid values have health benefit. It also is known that niacin lowers lipid values. Unfortunately a simple assumption was made that, therefore, niacin must have health benefits. The first two bits of information were simple data that unfortunately led to an incorrect assumption.
Eventually, health outcome studies with niacin therapy were done. It was at this point that knowledge replaced data in that these studies failed to show a clinical health benefit, despite better laboratory numbers.
All scientific endeavors move forward by fits and starts. Hypotheses are made, data are collected and then theories are proposed. What can seem to be a solid theory can later be disproved or refined.
A good case in point is Newtonian physics — the principles of which work well enough to have allowed the success of the Apollo missions to the moon, but are unable to properly handle phenomena that approach light speed. For that we need Einstein’s principles of space and time.
Instead of being disheartened when new research changes previous beliefs, be glad that truth is being continually sought, however circuitous the path may be.