September 11-15, 2017
Category: General Blogs | Tags:

Studying Studies

I was both amused and a little bit frightened the other day—maybe bemused then?—to read widespread media reports about a study linking moderate alcohol consumption to higher risks of cancer.

My first reaction was, “Egads! And I thought moderate alcohol drinking was supposed to be good for me!” And it is, or so I’ve read in numerous other studies. And therein likes the problem: when one study reaches one conclusion, and another study a contrary one, what are we supposed to believe? 
If, in the example above, having a nice glass of wine or a beer with dinner both guards me from heart disease while at the same time raising my risk of cancer, should I have it? I guess you could say the smart thing would be to make specific choices based on my own situation. If heart disease runs in my family and not cancer, then maybe a drink a day is beneficial. If we have a higher genetic risk of cancer, maybe it isn’t.
That is, of course, if we are going to pay much attention to all of these studies in the first place. If you take some time to learn a little about the methodologies used, it quickly becomes clear that really good scientific studies can be hard to come by. Oftentimes other scientists or experts criticize the results of their peers’ studies based solely on the methodologies used. In fact, if you notice, in most articles reporting the studies the reporter will usually include one or two other experts who disagree with its findings.
But even without that being the case, my question is are we studying ourselves to death with all these studies?  What’s the impact on our health of being told that everything we enjoy is bad for us? Has anybody ever studied that? It’s gotten to the point where you show me something pleasurable in life, anything at all—yes, including a nice glass of wine or a beer—and I can show you a study that says it’s bad for us. What a bummer!
Thankfully, I can also show you a study that says it’s good for us. So, when it comes right down to it, what’s really the point? We’re left pretty much where we started, aren’t we?
I guess I’m being a little simplistic here. Sure, there are some studies that are more respectable than others and should be taken very seriously. For example, we all know today that cigarettes are bad for us. But that was not always considered a fact. Our understanding only changed after study after study confirmed it to be true. 
But there just seem to be many more studies today that are released into the 24-hour, non-stop news cycles that are not as trustworthy—and they have the potential to do a lot of damage. 
The impact of this latest study, which claims to find a link between moderate alcohol consumption and cancer (I have my doubts based on reading about it, but I’m an editor, not a scientist so I’ll hold my tongue), could very well hurt the livelihoods of many hardworking people in the alcohol beverage business the world over. Do the study’s authors ever stop to think about that? I sure hope they are confident with their results before releasing them because this is not a game. Yes, people’s lives will be effected, and sometimes not in the way the study’s authors were thinking. It all leaves me with the burning question: Has anyone ever done a study on the impact of studies?  
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