Monday, July 9, 2012

Discussion: Who do you trust?

My dad was having problems of a manly nature, and he wasn't sure if he should have surgery on his prostate or not. He consulted his family doctor. He consulted a urologist. He consulted the doctor on the ward in the hospital. He talked to my mom and me. In the end, he made his decision to have the operation based on the wise words of Roy at the key shop. (And yes, the phrase "Roy at the key shop said..." is well used in my household.)

Which leads me to the question - Who do you trust? Where do you get the information you need to make decisions?

As an aside...where did the idea that data for studies are faked so regularly that we shouldn't trust studies arise? Where did we get the idea that studies are done by large corporations who will fudge their results to match their corporate agenda? And why do we think these things, but trust large organizations like EWG, their studies, and their Skin Deep website not to fudge data or skew findings to match their corporate agenda? And where did we get the idea that science = bad, our common sense or gut instinct = good? Just a few things to ponder for a sunny Monday morning... 

There's a great book I recommend frequently called Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). They bring up the idea of cognitive dissonance, the idea that we can't hold two opposing ideas in our heads so we work to get rid of one of those thoughts. Let's say I make a mistake. This goes against the idea that I'm a good person, so I strive to make the thought go away. It's easier to make the "I made a mistake" thought go away than the "I'm a good person" thought, so I strive to minimize the mistake instead of owning up to it. We use a lot of techniques to avoid admitting we made a mistake - we blame other people, we blame the information upon which we made the decision, we use distancing language, (mistakes were made versus I made a mistake), and so on. The desire to reduce our responsibility for the mistake is pretty strong.

The more we buy into a concept, the harder it is to change our minds because we can't have two opposing thoughts in our heads. For instance, you think you're a good person making good lotions. You don't use preservatives, so when someone tells you the lotion has gone bad, you blame them for not doing something right because "it's never done this before!" You want to make lotions, but you can't find an emulsifier that fits into your philosophy - for instance, being vegan or all natural - so you find a way to make it fit into your philosophy because you really really want a lotion in your catalogue. This is one of the reasons I say not to argue with zealots: If they have to defend their positions against your arguments, they will solidify them further. Plant a seed and let them come to the conclusions themselves.

One of the reasons I tell parents never ban their children from seeing bad boyfriends/girlfriends because you turn them into Romeo and Juliet, with one partner working really hard to find the good things in the partner to prove their parents wrong! Just plant the seed and let them come to their own conclusions. (If the child is in severe danger from a partner, then all bets are off! Intervene!) 

The reason for posing this question? I'm seeing this a lot lately around the idea of making our own sunscreen. I continue to get e-mails from people who want to make their own, and when I advise them against it, they quote the EWG studies, they justify it by saying they won't use it on anyone else, they tell me that they're copying a store bought product which we know works, they say I've been bought by the corporations and my word isn't good any more, and so on. There's no point in arguing with someone who really wants to do this - he isn't looking for information on why they shouldn't do it, he is looking to confirm his reasoning and feel good about making the decision to make something that others have said could be dangerous. (I've given up on this topic, to be honest. If you want to make a sunscreen, make a sunscreen and enjoy it. I don't have the energy to argue any more.)

When it comes to making your own products, these are the questions that interest me and ones that I think we should ask ourselves - Who do you trust? Why do you trust them? Where do you get your information? Which books are high on your reference list? If you trust your gut instinct or common sense over science, how did you decide this was a better way to get information than reading studies? If a friend tells you something, are you more likely to believe it than if you saw it on TV? And what about bloggers and forums and websites? Why is one book/blog/website/friend/mentor more trustworthy than another?

And yes, I realize this might seem like a weird post for a bath & body products blog, but I am a family counsellor and my husband a now-graduated psych student, and we talk a lot about these topics. Plus, I thought it would be neat if you, my wonderful readers, shared your favourite links so we can have more information! 

Edited to add: Here's an interesting article on distrust of science and its association with political beliefs. It's interesting to see a decline in trusting science since the 1970s! I really encourage you to take a look at it - fascinating stuff!


Rachel said...

I'm a scientist with published papers; each paper puts forth an idea. I've never written a paper that puts forth a theory, nor one that claims to be indisputable fact. A few years back a paper I was part of writing had a finding reported in the news media. Itwas reported as the big medical discovery of the day with a recommendation of what not to eat. The interview with a colleague on the project was edited before it was broadcast, creating subtle changes of meaning. Three months later a separate study done by another group found a similar but different result, and it was reported as contradicting our result and giving a new list of foods to avoid.

The problem is that we write journal articles for other researchers who are knowledgable in the field. The news media is using uneducated reporters to cover our research. Often these people sound as if they are credentialed, e.g. a person with an MD reporting on biochemical research, yet the MD has never done research, does not have the background to interpret the paper and has never practiced medicine. To most people, it Sounds as if scientists are just guessing, and what they say today is different tomorrow. But Mercola, EWG, Rodale and other anti-science organizations never change what they say, and sound much more trustworthy. And some of them get endorsed by Oprah. How can anyone compete with that?

Rachel said...

I'm a scientist with published papers; each paper puts forth an idea. I've never written a paper that puts forth a theory, nor one that claims to be indisputable fact. A few years back a paper I was part of writing had a finding reported in the news media. Itwas reported as the big medical discovery of the day with a recommendation of what not to eat. The interview with a colleague on the project was edited before it was broadcast, creating subtle changes of meaning. Three months later a separate study done by another group found a similar but different result, and it was reported as contradicting our result and giving a new list of foods to avoid.

The problem is that we write journal articles for other researchers who are knowledgable in the field. The news media is using uneducated reporters to cover our research. Often these people sound as if they are credentialed, e.g. a person with an MD reporting on biochemical research, yet the MD has never done research, does not have the background to interpret the paper and has never practiced medicine. To most people, it Sounds as if scientists are just guessing, and what they say today is different tomorrow. But Mercola, EWG, Rodale and other anti-science organizations never change what they say, and sound much more trustworthy. And some of them get endorsed by Oprah. How can anyone compete with that?

Basil Yokarinis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Basil Yokarinis said...

That's exactly the issue! What we call "science" is not science at all, it's what the media tells us is science. The media serves it's own interests; their bottom line and political interests, so the story we get in the end is very little like the true story. "Science" has become the new religion and if you don't "believe" in it in this day and age, it's heresy. Of course, if you have access to raw data, and the skill to interpret that data, then it's hard to dispute the conclusions, but who of us has that? And who of us is infallible? Why do we put so much trust in what we're told is "science"? It goes back to the media - they're very good at convincing us of their rhetoric; that's what they do.

Why don't I trust large corporations? Because there is no mechanism, neither legal nor moral, that has any control over a corporation (in contrast to the vendor at my local market who sees me face to face when I buy their products). So if a corporation appears to be moral or green or anything, it's only because that will benefit their bottom line - there is no other motivation. None.

Why do I trust Mercola or EWG? I don't always, but it gives me something to think about, and when I can't trust the "science" then I have to trust my gut. We have survived for 10's of thousands of years on our gut instincts, forming tradition and culture. Many of those traditions have no modern explanation, yet science keeps finding scientific explanations for things that we already knew.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,

(Rant ahead)

"Where did we get the idea that studies are done by large corporations who will fudge their results to match their corporate agenda?"

This is particularly pervasive in psychiatry/neuropsychopharmacology (a hobby of mine), and seems to stem back to the anti-psychiatry zealots who argue that BigPharma’s evil medications are FORCED upon the choice-less mentally ill (and that medication makes people’s illnesses worse, despite the data), and demand that no mentally ill person should take them, FORCING their opinions on to others too.
They always fail to see the hypocrisy. I believe the choice is entirely that of the ill person – which, according to the anti-psychiatry lot means I’m “against them.” I’ve even been accused of being a paid stooge of BigPharma.
If that were true, I’d have nicer things….. *dreams of pretty things*

The problem is, with people of this type of stance, such as the naturalists who make their own sunscreens and preservative free lotions, what they believe to be true is exactly that, a BELIEF. Just like creationists, no amount of information can sway them. You’re either for or against them, and the whole world is black and white.
Science is mutable, we change our theories with new evidence. Beliefs, by their very nature, are immutable.

Also, there seems to be this damn strange idea that natural products (herbal ‘medicine,’ cosmetics etc) are NOT created by large multinational corporations who’s main aim is not to benefit mankind, but to make money for their shareholders.

I honestly think this is a lack of education into the techniques of proper research and the ability to identify the difference between good and bad research, which I believe should be taught in school, preferably from an early age.

Then there is the problem that, nowadays, everyone thinks their opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. How often do we see a discussion on TV that has a doctor with 2 PhDs having a debate with someone with no formal education, just opinions and an unbending belief. I blame on the media for this (and for the dumbing down of scientific articles to the point where what the media reports has nothing at all to do with the scientific research in discussion. It’d really help if they had actual scientist as their ‘scientific journalists/reporters.’)
I think this guy puts it much better than I could:

There are in fact 2 things: science and opinion.
The former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.
~ Hippocrates

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...


@ Basil Yokarinis

You say:
We have survived for 10's of thousands of years on our gut instincts, forming tradition and culture.

Well, yes, but a leading cause of death for women throughout history was childbirth, and many children would die before the age of 5.

Also, from the neolithic until the 20th century, life expectancy was less than 40 years of age.

We may have survived, but survival was immensely hard. Life was short and brutal.


catherine said...

Ok I have a long answer that I will prob split into multiple comments.

For skincare I trust this blog, and paula begoun's sites, and

I don't know if this counts as cognitive dissonance...paula and susan have opposing views in some areas but I'm ok with that. For ex susan likes lavender but paula says lavender is irritating.

Nancy Liedel said...

Make this one hard why don't you? Who do I trust for advice regarding my business?

In the general business sense, I trust my sister more than she knows. She thinks my ten year plan is too long and does not push me hard enough, but I have to earn a degree here. I have a lot to learn and self esteem issues to overcome. I want it all perfect, damn-it and she HATES that. So, I let her push me, where she is smart about it. She holds an MBA from U of M, and is a Environmental Engineer. One of the good guys. Protecting land is important to her. It's informed a lot of my product decisions.

For cosmetics I have a handful of Disher's I go to, you being one of them. I also trust Lise-Lise who posts here often. She has a business sense and model similar to mine with goals similar to mine. "As natural as possible without endangering the faces and bodies of the people who will use my products, and a strong dose of common sense." Not so common anymore.

My gut. I know, a scientist should not be pushed by her guts, but I don't quite mean it in such a cavalier way. Would I use this on my kids? Is it nice enough to hit the niche that my stepmother fits into? Is this going to be within a mile of a sink? Is the consumer likely to do something stupid with this, no matter the warnings I place on the label? Etc. Common sense mixed with science.

I do not believe, "all natural," is always best. I believe there is a middle ground that is part and parcel of my common sense makeup, that would not work for others. My father is a math nerd, I've traveled the world and know what harm, "better than nature," can do, but also have seen a friend of mine try to identify a plant by putting it in his mouth. Did you know that poison ivy, if chewed, can put you in the hospital?

In other words, research the heck out of your ingredients, know your niche. Know people are going to believe the EWG, even if they tell you that stuffing a monkey in your navel is best for your skin. I also know people are...When it comes to a lot of things they just want to trust someone who has worked really hard, explains the product and what's in it in a no nonsense way and will believe you. They will trust YOU! Their formulator. So, you'd better be as informed as possible about science, natural products, and have an in-depth knowledge of what you make, why you make it and what's in it for customers as opposed to, Le Mer.

Who do I trust? My educators. I put in all the advice, information and statistics. I look for good studies, and links to good resources. I take manufacturers information with a salt lick and really listen to what the consumer wants. Effective products that won't kill them, or add to the stress that they are slowly poisoning themselves with my stuff. So, I trust a lot of sources, and know that even a well-tested product can food science every now and then.

Do all the special interest groups have an agenda? Yes. So think and wait. Wait for time to show us if a product has efficacy and have it all tested. It's the best we can do. It's the best I can do. I put a lot of stock in my test labs. That's where the safety concerns end. Since I use my products, I know if they work, are occlusive, etc. If the system is holding? That's up to the labs. I expect honest reports and so far, knock wood, so good.

In the end it's all mutable and a better education teaches us things that we wish we'd known before. We all look back and say, "shit, we should not have done that," as a natural person, artificial chemical junkie, etc. It's life and it's a crap shoot. I wish I knew the future, but I can only go by best practices and our past. It's all we really have.


Nancy Liedel said...

Catherine, I suspect things that would not irritate one person, would another. I'm deathly allergic to roses. To some people they are the ultimate in glamorous and soothing love. Where you stand depends on what makes you sneeze. :)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Rachel! Thank you! What a great comment!
Hi Grace! Again, great comment!
Hi Catherine & Nancy! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Hi Basil. What you seem to be doing is bemoaning the fact that we aren't taught how to interpret studies and don't have enough science education - I agree. I think everyone should take some time to learn at least a little bit of proper science, something we can do with the 'net and things like iTunes U or online learning for free!

I completely disagree that the media is telling us what science is - I read the studies from the journals, not from the local paper or the evening news. This is the fault of the media, not the scientists.

I don't "believe" in science - I wrote a post about that here - I know science. To call science the new religion is to not understand the nature of science. (Stephen Jay Gould called them non-overlapping magisteria...)

I don't trust large corporations as a rule, but I'm not really sure why they are any more or less moral than individuals. The vendor at the local market wants to make money, too, and she isn't necessarily more moral or kind than the corporation - she's just a smaller business. She'll choose her philosophy to make money, and if it doesn't, she'll go out of business or change her products. I think this is a very naive way of seeing business - small is good and kind while large is evil and horrible. There's nothing to prevent the small vendor from selling harmful products - in fact, she's more likely to sell you something harmful because she doesn't have quality control teams, legal advisors, access to tons of tried and true recipes, and a sterile workspace.

I find it strange that I am arguing for businesses being a big left leaning pinko, but I think we need to stop lionizing the small business owners as being more virtuous than larger businesses. Sometimes the only difference is the number of employees and yearly profits.

I think there is a place for gut instinct in science, to help generate ideas or form a starting point for a new experiment, but it isn't the end point. For every old timey thing that works - for instance, showing how chicken soup could help a cold - we've dropped others as ineffective - like blood letting, trepanning, and foot binding. Try living a day without science - without astronomy, chemistry, biology, medicine, physics, or engineering. You can't. It isn't possible. Science pervades every facet of our lives!

Someone wrote recently that we spent hundreds of years trying to find effective preservatives to keep our food supply safe, only to have us eschew it in a quest to be more natural! What a wonderful first world problem to have, eh?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Catherine & Nancy: I'm actually not a fan of lavender essential oil for personal use as I find it bothers my sinuses, but I use a lot in products for my mom. I tend to use the lavender hydrosol in products for me!

Basil Yokarinis said...


Well said Nancy.

First off, I'd like to say that I really appreciate this blog, as it seems to be one of the very few resources on the web that talks about lotion-making from a very analytical and methodical perspective, something that I, a left-brained Engineer (a condition that I am trying to correct!), really appreciate. It was in university that I first realized that part of education is faith, as it's simply impossible to actually understand everything. You have to have faith in your educators, and simply believe that what they teach you is the truth. Remember that education does not equal knowledge - those can be 2 completely different things.

Second, I want to mention that my first comment was just a reply to the previous comment, but now that I've had time to read the blog posting, I realize that I'm the "zealot" who sparked this posting.

Let me point out that just because you think you're right and that I'm wrong, Susan, that doesn't make me a zeolot. Is your mind open to the possibility that YOU might be wrong?

I am always cautious of anyone who is too sure of themselves, be it the Catholic who is sure that I will go to hell or the scientist who is sure (s)he knows what's best for me.

Science is a great idea, but it often fails us in the real world because reality simply presents an infinity of variables that no person could ever take into account or control. We're just not as smart as we think we are.

Regarding: "There are in fact 2 things: science and opinion.
The former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.~ Hippocrates". That's a beautiful quote, but unfortunately, scientists also have opinions and egos, both of which tend to sway their findings. Not to even mention how economics play into things. An economist would point out that everyone is driven by incentives, even a scientist, and those incentives often have more to do with dollars and cents than with the pursuit of truth.

Basil Yokarinis said...


Some of the greatest zealots that I've met have been scientists. What do you think a scientist would say if you tell her/him that you've devised a perpetual motion machine? Would they adhere to their dogma and say that contradicts the laws of physics and so is impossible? Or would they keep an open mind and say "how CAN this be possible?"

My entire life so far has been a journey from point A where I was a staunch atheist with a perfect grasp of Newtonian physics in high school. I realized that based on this "truth" the future should be predictable since every interaction between any objects could be predicted. In fact, the Newtonian world is perfectly predestined. Later I learned about Quantum physics. And much later life lessons and experiences have made me question my lack of spirituality and staunch belief in science as pure truth.

Kudos to your husband for A: having someone to turn to whose opinion they trust, B: doubting their doctor. You only have to be in the doctors waiting room and see the drug company salesperson in their $1k suit come in with their samples, or all the advertisements of new drugs on the doctor's office walls to realize that this profession is plagued by conflict of interest. I have friends who are doctors, so I know for a fact that doctors are routinely bribed to attend educational seminars put on by the drug companies themselves. A good doctor cannot possibly practice without continuing education, and the unfortunate fact is that doctors are simply much to busy to independently educate themselves, so in the end, much of their continuing education actually comes from the drug companies themselves. Whether or not what the drug companies are teaching is correct is completely besides the point as this is a clear conflict of interest.

As for my homemade sunscreen, I have made it (I wasn't even asking for advice on the sunscreen aspect of it, just the lotion making) and will test it on myself, knowing that I can empirically test its effectiveness, and knowing that I am fully responsible for all my own actions as well as the reality that I create for myself.

"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education." - Einstein

Julie said...

Wow, how irritating about the sunscreen! For heavens sake, just go BUY some people! I've read your many posts recently, which are often every couple of days, about not advising making your own sunscreen and I completely agree with you, your point and reasons seem absolutely plausible to me. So why people are being so bull headed and anal, I dont know. You've given great reasons for why it shouldn't be done, so if they still want to be reckless, let them. You tried.

As for who do I trust? Lately I have been coming here for all of my questions and research. I have discontinued posting on forums, specifically The Dish. I'll read through the archives but will never again post there. I was treated pretty darn poorly by quite a few holier-than-thou's on there, and been made to feel very stupid. So if I have a question I cannot find the answer to, I'll come here. You have great advice, a wealth of knowledge, and most importantly, you are kind and respective to your readers, and not once have I seen you act snarky to, or better than anyone with questions. Even basic or silly ones, like mine about the percentages.... :)

We are truly grateful for all you share with us!

I think Im going to finally make an account on here

Basil Yokarinis said...


A great article to get your thinking:

Diane said...

Hi Susan,
Speaking as an older folk, I think the most important factor for figuring things out is the experience-perseverence path. We do have Google, which can get us any answer in milliseconds, but we didn't work for that answer and it really isn't very reflective. It's good to compare and use for quick questions but it's really not the whole package. Only over time can we realize similarities and priorities.

I think the scientific approach can be great for synthetic compounds but even then we seem so enamored of specificity and specialization that the bigger picture suffers. Personally I am into essential oils of the genuine and authentic type (there is so much adulteration in so mamy "pure" eo's - think of 40/42 lavender) mainly because of their balancing tonic effect and yes - wait for it - precisely because of their volatility. I think life supports life. Chemical analysis is of limited use in such situations; consider yourself - your blood pressure in the morning will differ from your blood pressure at some other time.

I imagine one could argue that point, but I'm just saying that this is my persepective after years of "research"(couldn't we just say paying attention to things on a day-to-day basis?)

In the end, products we use are to enhance our looks/well-being from the inside out and I would prefer to work with the body instead of trying to master it. I still remember toxic shock and the same thing seems to be happening with micro-whatever sunscreens - they do such a thorough job that you get a Vit D deficiency with use!

I agree that the idea of a sunscreen that would let one stay out all day is an impossibility but I do think there are products out there that protect from the sun for short times. These are primarily (less volatile but still having a shelf life)vegetable and seed oils such as sesame, tamanu/foraha, coconut, kukui, raspberry seed - I have really dry skin and as mentioned am old and live in the high desert so I pay attention to these things. I just use a hydrosol or even an organic tea such as chamomile or green myrtle on my face then use one or more of these oils straight - it works well for me. I have experimented with lotion recipes to be sure I have plenty of water if I want to be out a bit longer and apply again - I'm really into tamanu this summer. My basic lotion recipe uses virgin coconut oil because I read that it washes out better than others and that seems to be the case.

So, in sum (thanks for staying with me) I'd say keep paying attention, get your information where you can here and there and that accumulation is more valid than scientific proof for each individual - does your skin go off the chart rashy? stop using it; does your skin eat it up and say thanks? you've got a winner.

Again, I don't mean to disparage scientific evidence but do find that the simple, whole ingredients are not problematic. And, FWIW, many pillars of the aromatherapy community have nothing good to say about EWG.


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Your e-mail sparked this post, Basil, that is true, but I don't consider you a zealot. I get dozens of emails every day, and at least one is from someone who plans to change my mind about something by yelling at me and calling me wrong wrong wrong. Normally they have something to sell or some vested interest in their chosen position. They generally start off by saying something like, "If you're wrong about this, then what else are you wrong about?", which is always a sure sign to me that I'm about to be attacked.

You've written your recent comments as if I had called you a zealot, and I'm feeling like you're on the verge of attacking me. I'm not comfortable with that and ask that we return to the debate about ideas. I would like to repeat that in no place on the blog or in our e-mails did I call you or consider you a zealot. I disagree with your desire to make your own sunscreen and I disagree with your reliance upon gut instinct versus science - especially as an engineer! - but I wouldn't call you a zealot. (And I'm not sure how you will empirically test this sunscreen. Can you share your methods and data? I'm curious!)

I'm open to being wrong. I've written an entire post on the topic, which you can find here. A huge part of the learning process is keeping an open mind, being open to making mistakes, and recognize that it's a great way to learn. I always say I love my successes, but I learn from my mistakes. I don't think you've been around this blog long enough to know that I welcome being corrected, I welcome learning more, and I welcome new information. But I'm not going to change my mind without some kind of evidence.

Carl Sagan noted that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If you present a physicist with something that violates the laws of physics, you better have some pretty amazing evidence that is replicable in other labs. This isn't dogma - it's an adherence to the scientific method. And yes, scientists have egos and feelings and beliefs, but good ones use those to drive them further into their exploration of the natural world. The bad ones do things like sign advertisements for creationism.

The story was about my father, not my husband. (If you've been around the blog for a while, you'd know my husband has hair halfway down his back...) The point was supposed to be that we often trust sources who have no credibility. What does Roy at the key shop know about prostate operations? He's a nice enough guy, and perhaps he's had a personal experience with one of the doctors or the operation, but I don't think he is qualified to help my dad make a really serious medical decision.

I live in Canada, so price isn't an issue when it comes to getting medical care. We can focus on the actual needs of a patient instead of the wages a doctor might earn.

Better go. Work awaits!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

May I ask a question of everyone? What do you consider science? I'm finding it very difficult to wrap my head around the idea that we don't trust science.

Science is as much about creating chairs (ergonomics, engineering) as curing cancer (medicine) or testing essential oils (chemistry).

To use your example, Diane. To make the equipment to distill lavender essential oil, we use science in the form of engineering. To test for the components in the oil, we use chemistry. Even bottling it requires science as the company figures out what is safe for transport or keeps the oil from being exposed to the sun.

When it comes to more natural ingredients, we use science. To know that using soy bean oil can have benefits requires science. To know that the emulsifiers actually work we need to use science. To know that something won't kill us or hurt us, we use science.

Science is just an exploration of the natural world and universe. It's a way of gathering information and explaining the world. Watching how your cake rises on a less humid day and writing down the results is science. Noting that those flowers thrive more in the shade than the sun is science.

Every single day we use scientific methods to make decisions, but they aren't called SCIENCE, so it's okay. When we make the decision not to have the chicken at that restaurant because it tastes bad, we've used scientific methods to observe, think, gather more information, and consider the results. When we use our gut instincts, we're using scientific methods - we observe, we ponder, we gather more information, we make decisions based on that information. I think the problem is that we consider science to be one thing - scientists in a lab studying things - instead of seeing it as part of our daily life. How can we be against this or think it isn't valuable?

Anonymous said...

Hi again Susan,

Ooops, I forgot to actually answer the question - Who do I trust?
Simply put, I trust me. Well, to the extent that I can, my knowledge is, and always will be, limited.
I read around; I read the initial study/claim, read the rebuttals, read the replications of the study (after all, a single unreplicated study is virtually worthless until it has been confirmed or refuted with the results of replication(s) by other scientists, and the more replications the better). I then assess this information and reach my own conclusions.

It is through this method that I came to trust this blog (sorry for doubting you, Susan!). However, I'm much more likely to trust someone who realises the importance of providing sources for their claim(s), such as Susan does, as this allows the reader to see and assess the original data, providing a foundation to then move on to further research regarding the topic in question. If someone provides sources for the counter-claims too, well that’s fantastic!

I also like MSDS, FDA etc safety sheets, they can be very useful.

I wasn't formally taught how to read/assess scientific articles or claims, although I do have a BSc (it was rather assumed we already knew how to do it). I taught myself with the help of friends, the internet and a circle of academics/scientist I found online in the most unlikely of places. It takes effort, but it is well worth it. Being sceptical and cynical by nature helped me too.

I realise there are people who treat science as a religion but, in my experience, they are often people who don't understand it and couldn't tell you what the importance of a controlled study is. I know the sort; they tend to attack/flame/troll theists in the most vicious way.
But, frankly, you don't have to "believe" in science, or treat it like a religion. Science just is. In all honesty I think it'd be like believing in and worshiping my coffee table. I don't have to, I know it's there (all the junk on it can't levitate after all).

@ Basil Yokarinis
“What do you think a scientist would say if you tell her/him that you've devised a perpetual motion machine?”
‘In this house we obey the laws of thermo-dynamics!’ ~ Homer Simpson
But, seriously, I’d want proof, and a well designed method that can be replicated in its entirety. Then I’d want replications, by others, which follow the method of original study exactly.

“That's a beautiful quote, but unfortunately, scientists also have opinions and egos, both of which tend to sway their findings.”
That’s where the importance of replications, as many as possible by as many different people as possible, becomes crucial.

Best wishes,

Basil Yokarinis said...

Hi Susan,

Don't worry, I don't intend to attack you. In fact I respect the wealth of knowledge that you present here and consider myself luck for having stumbled across it exactly at the dawn of my lotion-making endeavours.

My empirical testing? If I burn it didn't work. Wouldn't be the first time I get a sunburn and surely won't be the last.

I too am Canadian, and I would say that there is quite a high cost to our healthcare. Not that I would advocate a US model, but consider that if the government pays for our healthcare, does that not give them the right to dictate what we do and don't do in regards to our health? I am not a smoker, never have been and never will be, but I also don't think that the government should make it a crime to smoke. However, I propose that with a health care system like ours, the government DOES have the right to do that.

Consider my wife. She suffered digestive problems for the better part of a decade. She saw several doctors and no one could do better than diagnose her with IBS (a blanket diagnosis for when they really don't know what's wrong) and prescribe the latest drug for which they just happened to have a poster on their wall. What to do? We considered a naturopath, but, wait a minute... we're Canadian, we don't PAY for our healthcare! In the end she did see a naturopath who has helped her improve her condition immensely, and of course the cost, whatever it added up to, was worth it, because it worked.

That's the high price of our healthcare.

Sorry... way off topic.

What is science? Well, the dictionary definition, what it ACTUALLY IS and what it means to the average Joe(anne) are completely different things. IMHO to the average Joe, science is the new religion.

What a great discussion! Thanks for posting!

p.s. sorry, I mixed up husband/dad, my mistake.

Basil Yokarinis said...

It was also in university where I learned how easy (and essential to the completion of a lab write-up!) it is to fudge data.

Science is infallible, but scientists, being only human are not.

Nice Home Simpson quote - I'm ashamed to say I actually remember that one... but my point with the perpetual motion machine example is that scientists are also subject to cognitive dissonance (thanks for the book recommendation by the way Susan) and they too have egos to deal with. I think that a scientist is very likely to angrily dismiss an idea that so radically opposes his accepted model of the world, without even giving the idea the benefit of the doubt, let alone try to test it for repeatable results.

Diane said...

Hi Susan,

You make a good point about the pervasiveness of science in everything we do - as a former math teacher I tried with varying success to make the same point about math. To be specific as to my current attitude: I am personally totally wierded out re. our national food supply - scientifically genetically modified corn, soy, strawberries, everything - it's the uses that science seems to have been put to that is so discouraging to me. You make the point that essential oils are chemically evaluated, which is true - however, a common component such as linolool which can be found in a relatively inexpensive oil such as eucalyptus can be added to an expensive oil such as rose and still be called pure although in no way is it the original recipe of the plant from which it was extracted. This is also often the case with lavender, where the adulterated aroma is so pervasive that authentic original recipe lavenders have been returned as not "pure."

And don't even get me started on "organic" strawberries that are the size of baseballs - these little boys should really be about an inch in diameter with a very intense flavor - if something is treated organically it doesn't help much if the seeds are frankenfood. The food industry is fighting tooth and nail to keep GMO labeling off foods here; about 95% of all corn and soy (yes) grown in the US is GMO; don't know about wheat ...

This is perhaps the difference between science and technology (the "apps") - it's the technology that continues to insist that science as administered by humans can master and improve on nature. I'm not saying it can't ever be done (thank you Louis Pasteur), but I don't buy many of the "scientific" facts the general public is asked to believe. We're on the same side really; just be very sure of your sources.

catherine said...

Susan this blog post touched a nerve for me. I haven't had a chance to read most of the comments yet...I wanted this comment of mine to be 'just me,' not reacting to or absorbing others' comments.

Here's where I'll get the eye roll from the pro-science, anti-intuition/gut people...please read my comment in full before replying to it (if that's your inclination).

I know vaccinations caused my son's autism. My husband's 40-something yr old first cousin has autism. He also has older relatives/ancestors in italy who were 'given to the nuns' (horrible, I know). In short autism runs in the family.

What I DIDN'T know (until after my son's diagnosis) is my husband's autistic cousin (let's call him adam) was the only child in his family who was vaccinated. His 2 older brothers weren't ...they just didn't do that in upstate ny in the late 60s. But in california in the early 70s when adam was born they did.

Adam's brothers have 4 children...none of them vaccinated...none of them have autism.

Think about it. In one generation 1 out of 5 kids has autism (my husband has a brother which makes 5). In the next generation 1 out of 5 kids has autism. In both generations the only ones who got autism were the ones who were vaccinated.

So the current science that vaccinations don't cause autism isn't least not for my family. And I've submitted our family to be studied (the noah database, autism speaks, stanford). No takers yet.

I just know that for some families like mine there is a genetic predisposition to autism that's excacerbated by environmental factors like vaccinations. As I heard michael j fox say (talking about parkinsons), 'genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.'

This is my long drawn out way of saying you can't just shake your heads at people who are skeptical of some science. In this story the science (that vaccinations have absolutely nothing to do with autism) hasn't caught up to reality yet.

My story is not unique. And we in this boat are not crazies, like the media likes to portray us. In fact not only are we sane...some I know are science people...electrical engineer, biomedical engineer, medical doctor...who have kids with autism. All of us have in common our sound belief that vaccinations had something to do with our kids' autism.

Btw I wear sunscreen, believe in evolution, believe in the moon landing, believe in climate change. I believe a lot of is junk science.

I also believe most kids don't get autism from vaccinations.

It's isn't right 100% of the time. And it's problematic that a lot of it is funded by corporations with a financial stake. I could go on even longer but I'll stop here.

Anonymous said...

Re: What do you consider science?

Excellent post which also provided me with a slightly different but very interesting question – What, at its most basic, IS science (to me)?
I’ve really enjoyed considering these questions and I have a feeling I’ll be considering them for a long time to come! Thanks.

So, what is science?
I’m not sure it holds up to scrutiny (esp for things like theoretical physics) but, boiled right down, the best answer I’ve been able to come up with so far is:
Science is the art of discovery by means of trial and error.
What do I consider science?
I think anything that fulfils the above statement could potentially be called science.... or maybe the insomnia is finally getting to me. Has any of this made sense?

Off topic: Has anyone seen the EU’s patronisingly misogynistic video (available on YouTube) - “Science: It’s a Girl’s Thing”?
Ye Gods!

Best wishes

Diane said...

i think there is a point here that is so accepted that it is not stated enough - we trust YOUR blog, Susan; I am confident that you have reflected upon any statement that you put forth here. =)