Why I always follow the science—and what that means

Over the last few years, I’ve heard lot of people repeat the misguided and overly simplistic mantra, “I believe in science.” For one, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) often repeated the “scientism” quip on the campaign trail and during presidential debates last year. And now, I see it popping up on yard signs, t-shirts, and social media rants. 

Now, don’t get me wrong 

I’ve spent my entire 40-year career as a medical researcher and forensic pathologist following the science. So, as I always state in the closing of my emails to you, I’m “always on the side of science.”  

But believing in science is a whole different ball of wax. And the way I see it, those who make such proclamations don’t really understand the field at all… 

In fact, using the word “believe” puts science into the realm of religion, spirituality, or even magic, as John B. Sebastian and The Lovin’ Spoonful sang in their 1965 hit song. And when you really break it down…we often use the word “believe” when referring to something for which there is little (or no) evidence; for something that’s cut off and held back from inspection, analysis, questioning, and criticism; or for something set apart entirely from logic and reason.  

Plus, these politically correct, holier-than-thou “cheerleaders” of science seem to imply that their way of thinking is the only one that can be correct…and the only one that matters. And they tend to equate their dim perception of science with the moral “high ground.  

Yet, they don’t have the first clue about (1) what science is, (2) how it’s done, (3) what it can and cannot do, (4) and what it does, doesn’t, or can’t mean.   

So, today, let’s delve a bit deeper into why I “follow” the science (and what that means to me)but don’t profess to blindly “believe” in it 

Take care in defining science 

You may recall Albert Einstein once said, “as the circle of light increases, so does the circumference of darkness around it.” He also put it colloquially, “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”  

Now, that is how a real scientist thinks about the role of science in the world! 

Because, really, science is simply a tool. It is not a fixed, static set of received “information.” You can also think of it as an approach or process for discoveringlearning, and revising our understanding about the world we inhabit. And ultimately, as something that helps us distinguish facts from opinion or belief. (This is known as epistemologywhich I discuss in more detail in the opening chapters of my textbook, Fundamentals of Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Medicine.) 

Science is also constantly changing. Which means the whole concept of “settled science” is a fiction and a contradiction in terms! 

Just take a quick look back at history…  

We can find countless examples of so-called “settled” science that was later completely debunkedIncluding the once “settled” and widely accepted role of amyloid plaque as the clear cause of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).  

But wnow know that half the people with AD don’t have these amyloid plaque deposits in their brains and half of people without AD do have them! So, as I recently reportedin all likelihood, these amyloid plaques probably appear as a result of dementia in some, but not all, AD patientsBut they certainly can’t be the cause of the disease, as was once widely accepted. 

Likewise, we can find just as many examples of “quack” scientific theories that were later found to be right on the money. For example, it took many decades for the mainstream to understand and accept the idea that microscopic “bugs” cause infection. And until that concept gained a toehold in mainstream medical practice, many people died of untreated bacterial infections. (Soldiers in the Civil War lost many limbs due to our limited understanding!) 

The mainstream media doesn’t always help matters 

As I’ve always said, the mainstream media plays a role in muddying the water when it comes to the general public’s understanding of science. 

Sadly, some mainstream journalists just dont understand the complex scientific concepts on which they report. But it’s not their fault, really. They’re not scientists, after all. So, they tend to muddle, oversimplify, or completely botch their explanations. (Thankfully, there are some very good ones out there too. Like my friend Gina Bari Kolata who writes for The New York Times.) 

Plus, many writers actually work directly for big pharma. Indeed, years ago, when I gave the keynote address at the annual meeting of the American Medical Writers Association’s (AMWA), I learned that 80 to 90 percent of them made their living working for big pharma 

Wellno wonder we hear so much about the latest and greatest wonder drugs…while we hear next to nothing about the time-tested, effective, natural approaches to prevent and treat disease! 

Of course, we also have the problem of junk science… 

Junk science makes matters worse 

Although the cheerleaders of science don’t want to “believe” it, theres lot of junk science out there. And there always has been.  

For example, far too many published studies use sloppy scientific methods, small sample sizes, or questionable statistical manipulationsWhereas other studies inappropriately promote a clear agenda.  

And sometimes, scientists even purposefully misrepresent their findings and take pains to disguise their real conclusions. In fact, we now know the sugar industry actually hired scientists back in the mid-20th century to conduct fake studies and cover up the role of sugar in the development of diseases. (Yes, folks—some scientists aren’t above corruption.) 

Worse yet, public health bureaucrats then use these poorly designed studies to justify just about everything—from new treatments…to increases in funding…to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval…to new public health policies. 

Coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the problem with “blind science” 

When the coronavirus pandemic hit U.S. soil, I noticed that the “blind faith” in science reached a fever pitch among manySuddenly, anyone with an M.D. or a quasi-scientific background was an expert—despite their complete ignorance of epidemiology, biostatistics, or infectious diseases 

The mainstream media (and much of the general public) wholeheartedly believed these unqualified “experts.” Plus, since scary headlines and yellow journalism attract more readers…why would the media ever want to report about the very real likelihood that the virus will eventually fizzle out on its own, as did the Spanish Flu of 1918? 

Blind faith sows widespread distrust 

Of course, there’s a dangerous flip side to this almost hedonistic devotion to “science”it leads some people to doubt it all together. They seem to think: Because we can’t believe the junk science…it must all be junk.  

So, now we have conspiracy theorists who don’t believe anything the government scientists say. They think the coronavirus doesn’t really exist, or that it was concocted in a lab and deliberately released. (But with all the distrust, it’s hard to “know” to a degree of metaphysical certitude.) 

But when you blindly accept science without rigorously and regularly subjecting it to inspection, analysis, and criticism…when you don’t allow it to change, or you don’t acknowledge the changes…when you don’t look at its historical context…well, you ultimately weaken the very thing you’re trying to exalt.  

This kind of distrust in our broken system is exactly what led me to start writing my Daily Dispatches and monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter, nearly 10 years ago. In my analyses, I take aim at the junk science, the fake news, and the politics of healthcare and medicineI also give you the most in-depth andup-to-the-minute information on new, well-designed scientific studies that don’t make it into the mainstream press—including natural approaches for healing everything from dementia to cancer to Type II diabetes. (If you’re not yet a newsletter subscriber, I urge you to become one today. All it takes is one click.)  

In the end, heres my promise to you… 

I promise to try to avoid sowing panic and fear. I promise to follow the science…wherever it may lead. I will continue to look closely—and with a healthy dose of skepticism—at all new studies. And I will always take the long view, consider the historical perspective, and place respect and value on using natural methods to achieve optimal health.