MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

How often do we hear this sentence: “I know, because I have done my research!” I don’t doubt that most people who make this claim believe it to be true.

But is it?

What many mean by saying, “I know, because I have done my research”, is that they went on the internet and looked at a few websites. Others might have been more thorough and read books and perhaps even some original papers. But does that justify their claim, “I know, because I have done my research”?

The thing is, there is research and there is research.

The dictionary defines research as “The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.” This definition is helpful because it mentions several issues which, I believe, are important.

Research should be:

  • systematic,
  • an investigation,
  • establish facts,
  • reach new conclusions.

To me, this indicates that none of the following can be truly called research:

  • looking at a few randomly chosen papers,
  • merely reading material published by others,
  • uncritically adopting the views of others,
  • repeating the conclusions of others.

Obviously, I am being very harsh and uncompromising here. Not many people could, according to these principles, truthfully claim to have done research in alternative medicine. Most people in this realm do not fulfil any of those criteria.

As I said, there is research and research – research that meets the above criteria, and the type of research most people mean when they claim: “I know, because I have done my research.”

Personally, I don’t mind that the term ‘research’ is used in more than one way:

  • there is research meeting the criteria of the strict definition
  • and there is a common usage of the word.

But what I do mind, however, is when the real research is claimed to be as relevant and reliable as the common usage of the term. This would be a classical false equivalence, akin to putting experts on a par with pseudo-experts, to believing that facts are no different from fantasy, or to assume that truth is akin to post-truth.

Sadly, in the realm of alternative medicine (and alarmingly, in other areas as well), this is exactly what has happened since quite some time. No doubt, this might be one reason why many consumers are so confused and often make wrong, sometimes dangerous therapeutic decisions. And this is why I think it is important to point out the difference between research and research.

22 Responses to I know, because I have done my research

  • Most people who do their ‘research’ wouldn’t know what a basic term, such as standard deviation means, let alone if it bit them on the arse. Their idea of research is reading some badly written, crap websites which appeal to their biases.

    Their idea of ‘well informed’ contains a thimble full of nonsense which conforms to their world view, however objectively ridiculous.

    I want to retire to a small village in Spain or Portugal where I might be confronted with less idiots, at least numerically fewer in number. Sadly, the fwits seem to be winning, as much as morons can ‘win’.

  • And between scientists (who seek knowledge) and ‘scientists’ (who promote modalities in the absence of knowledge).

    In healthcare, Research answers the questions (as far as may be done): “To what extent does this modality have an effect (good or not)? What should be done?”

    ‘Research’ by camists starts with the presumption their modalities have a beneficial effect, and is a marketing term to promote their faith.

    ‘Clinical audit’ (which few camists attempt) seeks to answer: “To what extent was that which was supposed to have been done (treatment based on research and evidence), actually done? With what effect/outcome?”

  • I get an equivalent assertion when religious assertions are sparked by my t-shirts and badges (most reactions are hugely positive and appreciative).
    The “because god told me…” tirade as with “… done my research…” is a demand for the audience to accept the claimant’s collection and evaluation of data as superior to anyone who doesn’t reach the same opinion. It is flawed argument that’s on a par with saying, “I’m wrong but won’t accept it”.

    How have I reached this opinion?
    Good question: I could be wrong and welcome robust evidence / argument that exposes flaws in my thinking.

  • Ofcourse Alternative Medicines are not Evidence Based. –Only the Farmaceutical Companies– have the money to do that sort of research. Maybe these EBM drugs are good working, but are they –essential–, do they really heal?

    Unfortunately many regular drugs working for chronic deseases are only symptomatic working.
    That’s a big problem that many people struggle with. Because many people get disappointed in this, they are going to try other ways.
    These are often the more fortunate people that have the financial possibility to do this..

    A few questions that come to me about EBM meds:
    (1) There has been a growing awareness that women may not always respond in a similar fashion as men to regular meds. The awareness about this, has it grown?

    (2) Meds: They are tested predominantly with young people. Is this correct?

    (3) The interaction with other drugs…I sometimes really feel sorry for elderly people, who have to take lots (to much) of mixed drugs.. I am mainly thinking of falls (broken hips) due to drowsiness, this happens too often .

    Ethics and Evidence-Based Medicine: Is There a Conflict?
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2100103/

    • @Eelco_G

      Only the Farmaceutical Companies– have the money to do that sort of research.

      Nonsense! The Big Snakeoil market is currently worth at least $60 billion per year and is predicted to grow to almost $200 billion by 2025.

      Unfortunately many regular drugs working for chronic deseases are only symptomatic working.

      So I presume you have evidence that pseudo-medicine permanently cures diseases like diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and COPD. Please feel free to post links to this evidence: we’ll refer the authors for the Nobel Prize.

      There has been a growing awareness that women may not always respond in a similar fashion as men to regular meds. The awareness about this, has it grown?

      This phenomenon has been known for some medicines for very many decades. The answer to your question is that not only is biomedical science aware of gender differences in response to medicines, it’s actively seeking to define individual differences in response based on genetics. The name for this branch of medicine is pharmacogenomics. We’re now in the 21st century: please do at least a little of your own research before posing questions from the 20th century.

      Meds: They are tested predominantly with young people. Is this correct?

      Only in Phase 1 — the very first time humans are exposed to a new drug. If you had any ability to think for yourself you’d realize that many drugs treat conditions that arise mainly in elderly people, so —duh! — the (often huge) clinical trials for efficacy can’t be done in young people.

      • Frank says: “Nonsense! The Big Snakeoil market is currently worth at least $60 billion per year and is predicted to grow to almost $200 billion by 2025”.

        Assuming that this ‘observation’ is not far removed from the truth. It says even more about the frustration many people have with regular meds (symptomatic, side-effects) There are (as an example) meds that mostly are not necessary at all.
        Take the stomach medication for excess stomach acid. As long as, you do not have physical abnormalities, you do not need (any longer) the meds, if you take vegetables with every main meal and do not eat after 20.00 in the evening.

        Everyone who has knowledge of the *alkaline-acid balance knows this and benefits from it.
        But this alternative *knowledge is being ignored by the pharmaceutical companies, because then a lot of pills for chronic deseases become redundant.

        • @Eelco_G

          Take the stomach medication for excess stomach acid. As long as, you do not have physical abnormalities, you do not need (any longer) the meds, if you take vegetables with every main meal and do not eat after 20.00 in the evening.

          It so happens I have been taking a proton-pump inhibitor daily for more than 20 years to prevent gastro-oesophageal reflux. I am unaware that the simple approach you describe is effective. Please point me to the evidence that your alternative approach works. (And please read this piece before you point me to an ‘enthusiastic but ignorant’ website or a YouTube video.)

          The remedy you suggest seems to me to be lacking in important points of detail. Exactly which vegetables should I take with each main meal; how much or how many, and how should they best be prepared? Cooked or uncooked? If cooked, by what means?

          To be certain I get things right, what do you classify as a ‘main meal’? Dinner, as the largest meal of the day, must be a main meal, but do you count breakfast? I tend to eat a hearty breakfast, but it doesn’t include any vegetables. Will fruits serve as a stand-in for vegetables, as they do in the UK NHS’s ‘five a day’ campaign?

          You say I must not eat after 20:00. That’s very specific, so thank you for that information. But does it make any difference what time I retire? Am I OK to drink whatever I like after 20:00 e.g. coffee, tea, milk, Coca-cola, beer, wine, whisky? Or should I drink only water? While I appreciate your medical advice for the condition that has troubled me for so many years, I am aware how biological science explains my acid reflux in physiological terms so these points of detail are really important if I am to follow your suggested cure.

          In your previous comment you scorned orthodox medicine for treating only symptoms of chronic disease. So I presume your “vegetables and no eating after 20:00” treatment will effect a permanent cure of my chronic reflux disease. How many treatments does it usually take to achieve a permanent cure? Will I be able to go back to eating a vegetable-free diet and eating after 20:00 within days, weeks, or months? (I can’t believe it could take years, because that would be only the same as treating the symptoms.)

          • Frank,

            I said in my comment: “As long as, you —do not have physical abnormalities—, you do not need (any longer) the meds”. But because you have probably damage of the esophagus (diaphragmatic hernia), medication will be necessary. I do not claim you will cure ;).

            But you can most likely reduce the dose of the medication, if you also eat vegetables –each– main meal. Fruits (daily) are o.k. (2), but vegetables have more potential (power).
            Forget your skeptical way of thinking and just try this for a while 😉

            It is best to eat with breakfast about 100 gr. raw or very light cooked (2 min.) vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, celery, broccoli. With lunch the same 100 gr. raw of light cooked..
            With diner you can eat about 200 gr. (raw or cooked) vegetables.

            Because your body needs rest -to recover- it is best (also for your stomach) only to drink water after 20.00 and not to eat anymore.. But occasional sinning is permitted :).
            I prefer organic vegetables as much as possible.

            Skeptical thinking is o.k. but do not make a dogma of it..
            I have learned the most in life through experience and I wish you that too.
            Just try it….. and take time to Experience.

          • Frank said: “Will I be able to go back to eating a vegetable-free diet and eating after 20:00 within days, weeks, or months?”

            It is clear that going back to a vegetable-free diet and eating after 20.00 is -asking- for stomach and reflux problems. Vegetables and enought rest for your digestive organs are –essential– in a healthy diet-lifestyle..
            Most people with reflux problems have due this to too little vegetables and fibers in their diet .

          • don’t I just love it when someone who was asked for evidence answers: IT IS CLEAR THAT…

          • @Eelco_G

            Thank you for answering my questions so comprehensively. I guess you’re acknowledging (” Vegetables and enought rest for your digestive organs are –essential– in a healthy diet-lifestyle”) that gastric reflux is a chronic disease for which alternative approaches can only treat symptoms, not cure. And you also acknowledge that, if a person has, e.g., a hiatus hernia, then even your vegetarian approach to lifestyle can’t beat the simple, daily, safe pill.

            May I raise two things with you?

            You say “I prefer organic vegetables as much as possible.” Why? Scientific experimentation makes it pretty clear that there only trivial definable differences between fresh organic vegetables and fresh conventional vegetables in both composition and taste. We farmed vegetables organically for millenia and kept massively losing crops to disease till scientific approaches showed us how to do it better.

            You say “I have learned the most in life through experience and I wish you that too.” Sorry, but I’ll trust objective scientific evidence over experience every time. My own experience has been that people are remarkably good at deluding themselves (just look at the comments on this blog for examples) and there’s plenty of hard psychological science to confirm that. People who trust their experience end up believing in gods and ghosts, thinking that the world is flat, that their future is determined by the positions of stars and planets, and trusting in pseudo-medicines that don’t have efficacy against diseases (among many other quirky beliefs).

        • The alkaline-acid balance.. yet another dangerously idiotic idea. It is a trademark red-flag of belief perseverance. Some things just cannot stop…

          • James said: “The alkaline-acid balance.. yet another dangerously idiotic idea”.

            Yes, what should I do with such a standard skeptical mantra .. Everything that is not proven, is nonsense, that is what the true skeptic claims.
            This topic (alkaline-acid balance) aims at prevention and health and will therefore —never— be intensively researched. No money can be earned with this subject ;).
            “Eating more vegatables, you call it a dangerous idea”, James, I cannot take your ‘mantra’ serious..

            What I see around me is an almost epidemic of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obese and reflux..
            –UK among worst in western Europe for level of overweight and obese people–
            https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/29/uk-western-europe-obesity-study

            The essential quality of health care should be reflected in the health of the people. I think we all agree on this, if we dare to call ourselves critical.. Then something should not go well with regular health care.

            About the the alkaline-acid balance; there is some interesting research..

            More alkaline diet strengthens skeletal health
            https://www.news-medical.net/news/2008/12/03/43733.aspx

            The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence That an Alkaline pH Diet Benefits Health?
            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195546/

          • ” Everything that is not proven, is nonsense, that is what the true skeptic claims.”
            no, it is roughly what responsible healthcare has to adhere to in the best interest of the patient and progress!

          • Allow me to quote directly from the review you cited:

            The most recent systematic review and meta-analysis has shown that calcium balance is maintained and improved with phosphate which is quite contrary to the acid-ash hypothesis [29]. As well a recent study looking at soda intake (which has a significant amount of phosphate) and osteoporosis in postmenopausal American first nations women did not find a correlation [30]. It is quite possible that the high acid content according to Remer’s classification needs to be looked at again in light of compensatory phosphate intake. There is online information promoting an alkaline diet for bone health as well as a number of books. However, a recent systematic review of the literature looking for evidence supporting the alkaline diet for bone health found no protective role of dietary acid load in osteoporosis [31]

            This is almost clear evidence (if you follow the referenced studies) that the acid-ash hypothesis is bogus. There are significant elements in the hypothesis that, quite simply, happen to overlap with what is already good advice, such as providing a fair supply of necessary mineral nutrients to the organism. Many of these happen to be basic oxides. Yes, we need fair amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium and sodium to thrive.

            The most interesting research about the alkaline-acid balance (in terms of dietary intake) clearly shows that it is a direct transformation of a number of correct scientific notions and information to a wildly extrapolated theoretical mashup that holds very little water.

          • Frank said (13 august 09.45) :
            “Scientific experimentation makes it pretty clear that there only trivial definable differences between fresh organic vegetables and fresh conventional vegetables in both composition and taste”.

            I doubt that, anyone who uses organic vegetables (more often) will have the experience, that these are tastier than the conventionally grown. No (processed) sauces are needed to increase the taste ;).

            We are already warned by the so-called ‘Climate Change’, it is now important to do everything
            to save what can still be saved. Organic growing has come of great importance to keep the earth livable, for us and our children..

            Major study documents benefits of organic farming
            https://news.wsu.edu/2014/07/11/major-study-documents-benefits-of-organic-farming/#.U8AkH41dXA3

            Can we feed 10 billion people on organic farming
            https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/aug/14/organic-farming-agriculture-world-hunger

          • @Eelco_G

            anyone who uses organic vegetables (more often) will have the experience, that these are tastier than the conventionally grown.

            Please do us a favour: re-read the original post on this thread! Personal subjective experience is emphatically not evidence of anything at all. Only blind tasting comparisons of organic vs conventional vegetables (both freshly-grown) can answer the question of flavour differences.

            It would be helpful if commenters posted links to original research publications rather than press summaries. Your “Major study documents benefits of organic farming” original publication is this one. It flies in the face of previous studies and has been criticized formally in print here. (This kind of controversy with systematic reviews and meta-analyses is exactly the same as discussed so often on this blog with regard to conventional vs. amateur medicine.)

            As for “Can we feed 10 billion people on organic farming” The newspaper article you link to says the following: “The existing farmland can feed that many people [9.6 billion in 2050] if they are all vegan, a 94% success rate if they are vegetarian, 39% with a completely organic diet, and 15% with the Western-style diet based on meat.” The most optimistic interpretation of those figures, in my opinion, is “perhaps, with a colossal cultural change.”

  • The problem can be found on both sides of the fence.

  • “We” do have our share of weekenders in the library claiming to be researchers: James Chestnut, DC and most nutritionists.

  • @Frank. My comment was not the logical fallacy as you suggested.

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