The Fine Art of Fishing in Sea of Fuzzy Science

Like it or not, we are fishing through a lot of fuzzy science about nutrition, physical activity, and obesity. A tremendous amount of new research comes our way every day. Facts, presumptions, and myths swim together in this sea of information.

So how can we best fish for some satisfying knowledge?

Impressive Journals and Scholars

Gina Kolata has written an impressive, insightful series on “The Science of Fat” for the New York Times. So when she offered her secrets for solid science reporting, we were delighted. Her formula is simple. She relies on a network of knowledgeable, honest researchers. She counts on them to know the latest research and its implications.

When she spots an interesting study in a prestigious journal, she asks them. “Is it credible? Does it advance the field? Are there caveats?”

Acknowledge Limitations and Make Calm Judgments

Aaron Carroll is another observer who regularly sorts through fuzzy science about health and nutrition for the New York Times. He regularly points out that “nutrition recommendations are seldom supported by science.” But he also offers advice based on how to make good judgments based on the information we have.

Fear, he tells us, doesn’t help.

The Indispensable Value of Critical Thinking

All of this good advice nibbles around the edges of a central skill. For interpreting information from a fuzzy mix of facts and myths, critical thinking is a must. Even prestigious journals can be swept up in a popular school of thought. Respected researchers can be blind to new insights from unconventional thinking.

Heather Butler tells us that better decisions and better outcomes result from better critical thinking skills. And these skills are teachable. So let’s pursue them.

Click here for more on Kolata’s approach to health reporting. For more from Butler on critical thinking, click here.

Fuzzy, photograph © Pam Link / flickr

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November 11, 2017