Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Results: Inconclusive

I'm having a little problem with information lately. I try to be unbiased in my information-gathering by getting the news from multiple sources and always paying attention to citations and the respectability of sources, yet there is still a lot of uncertainty as to what is absolutely true. Take the issue at hand at last night's Toast Party: Does drinking out of aluminum cans give you Alzheimer's disease, or at least increase your risk? I spent some time researching this (just using on-line sources) and came up with the following answers, Yes, No, Maybe. All of those answers came from what appear to be reliable sources. Now that I've educated myself on the topic, I could come up with a fairly convincing argument for each answer and many people have. So where does that leave me? Nowhere. And the Alzheimer's/aluminum debate is just one of many. Sunscreen/Skin Cancer. Soy Good/Soy bad. Global Warming/Cyclical Climate Change. Antibiotics/Bloodletting. Okay, maybe that last one isn't much of a mystery anymore : ).

I've found that in a conversation where one party moves to the far extreme in a certain argument's theoretical continuum, it tends to force everyone else to the opposite extreme, if only for the sake of balance. This is unacceptable. If you are standing in front of me arguing that bloodletting is the ideal and only true way to treat infection, I shouldn't have to stand up and say that antibiotics are the ultimate panacea for all mankind's ills. But if I give a fair and balanced report on antibiotics (they generally do the job, but their success is waning; they tend to destroy the good bugs as well as the bad, etc), then the middle ground between us is somewhere in the area of "Leeches and antibiotics are both acceptable treatment options and patients should be advised about the benefits and risks of both before making any treatment decisions." This, of course, is ridiculous.

The only intelligent answer to these questions is the unsatisfying shoulder shrug. The evidence literally goes both ways and the only absolute truth is, We Don't Fully Know Yet. You may prefer one view over another, but to be rational you have to acknowledge all the evidence. So how do we take a stand? And how should we live our lives? And how do we communicate with people who refuse to acknowledge the evidence on both sides? Or why talk about it at all if there's no satisfying conclusion to come to at the end? And what about the possibility, put forth and effectively argued by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink, that the more information we have, the less we are able to see the correct answer?

1 comment:

HerbalAmanda said...

I have this problem all the time. Every one of my books on herbs tells me different things about them and most of the time any herb you choose can either be a panacea or a deadly killer depending on your source.

I think sometimes you have to look at all the evidence and then use some logical reasoning. For the alzhiemers thing I like to look at it like this. Some evidence suggests that aluminum is bad for you but it is inconclusive most likely because most things are packaged in it. The best course of action then is moderation. Aluminum wont kill me in the minute doses in a can of pop, but a can of pop everyday will probably buildup in my system causing me trouble of some sort. Whether or not I get alzhiemers, I bet NOT eating out of aluminum every day will improve my health at least marginally over the long run.

I think the problem is in the fact that we are left to deal with more chemicals than our livers can effectively handle most of the time. Until science can follow multiple chemicals and their interaction in the body we will never truly know for sure what is good or bad for us. Not to mention that we are all individuals and don't always follow what's 'normal.' Remember until a few years ago only white males were tested in trials, and it remains disparate today with most test subjects being white college students. Research in humans has a long way to go before its universal in its evaluations.