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Bad Science & Bad research can kill you

Way back in my college days I took Experimental Psychology from one of th few women allowed to teach psychology at the University level. What matters most is that she taught us well and one of the first things we learned about was experimenter bias (EB) which is also known as the Rosenthal effect. Rats are a popular research subject. We all had to take “Learning Psychology” which was really all about B.F. Skinner’s ego. S-R, blank slate – learning according to Skinner was via Stimulus/Response – the innate or inborn part of creatures did not exist – that was unscientific blah blah.

Back to Rosenthal’s work with rats in proving EB – or Experimenter Bias. The experiment used smart and dumb rats. One group of college students was given “dumb” rats and the other group was given “smart” rats. After the tests were made and the scores added the results were conclusive – the dumb rats were dumb and the smart rats were – yep – smart. The thing was that there was basically no difference between the rats – there were as identical as white lab rats could be. Yet the student experimenter results matched the random labels give each rat. This EB work was taken to the classroom. Human  students were randomly assigned labels in Academic jargon, of course, of smart and dumb. Teachers affirmed that said kids were either smart or dumb according to the made up random classification. Rosenthal effect strikes again.

There has been a major Rosenthal experiment taking place in America. Way back in the 1950s a Nutritionist did some research on the diets and health of middle aged men from different places around the world. From that research on middle aged males we all were expected to get rid of bacon and butter and the other “bad” food and eat only nutritionists approved foods. This advice was based on one very biased research project  of a man who had an opinion of what is healthy. His name was Dr. Ancel Benjamin Keys. His research – the Seven Countries – is a perfect storm of the ultimate Experimenter Bias example that I’ve ever read.

Nina Teicholz has a book coming on later this month about Dr. Keys research – highly biased research – which has dictated how we are supposed to eat. One particular group of victims of this research are women. It has been standard practice to exclude women and female subjects in a whole lot of research. Drugs are most often rested on male only subjects and if proven safe and effective on the male test subjects then the drugs are given to women – no testing required. Wrong! Drugs are known to work differently on males and females, adults and children and different ethnic groups. One size does not fit all. And the government approved diet (which Mrs 0bama preaches) is bad – very bad – for a whole massive group of us.

Well sure -we didn’t know and how many people understand scientific research? Experimenter Bias is most often unconscious – unless safeguards are built into the research the results can be driven by the hypothesis being tested. Where is the money for the research coming from? Money can bias the results.

Nina Teicholz book probably should be on our must read lists. We all eat and most of us probably try to follow the government guide lines. Although I am now questioning the vastly increased recommendations of adding more fruits and veggies something like 7 portions. There will be the scientist who will cling to the flawed and biased research – forgetting one missing statistic – where were the women? Why push vegetable oil which has known health harming properties when heated (frying food, etc.)?

Science is about testing and challenging hypothesis. We have been living and dying with research that has been used as if it was THE law for healthy living by eating ‘healthy” food. Even if the motives of Dr. Keys were positive the results for a large number of people has been negative.

Nina Teicholz — The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. 


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